The Correspondence of Paul
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 30 July 2018; Revised 9 September 2018
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for scholarly publications cited may be found at the end of the article. References to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737); online. References to tractates of the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); online. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Letter writing was a very popular means of communication in the first century, made possible by the extensive Roman postal system. Paul's preparation to be a writer likely began in his education under Gamaliel the Elder. An important teaching principle for Gamaliel was the significance of correspondence in creating contacts (Santala 32). His school (Beit Hillel) had a more open relation to the Greek language than Beit Shammai, which made external contacts possible. For example, the Talmud describes how Rabbi Gamaliel sat on the Temple Mount and dictated three letters to his scribe,
'Take one sheet', he said, 'and write an epistle to our brethren in Upper Galilee and to those in Lower Galilee, … Take another sheet, and write to our brethren of the South, … And take the third and write to our brethren the Exiles in Babylon and to those in Media." (Sanhedrin 11b)
Among Jewish leaders Gamaliel is known to have had the most extensive correspondence of his time, giving his advice, for instance to King Agrippa I. Thus, Paul's lengthy letters demonstrate the training influence of Gamaliel.
Paul's written works consist of letters to followers of Yeshua in seven locations (Colossae, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Rome, and Thessalonica) and three individuals (Timothy, Titus and Philemon). All of these letters bear Paul's name as the author and to reject that claim is both an attack on Paul's integrity and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I am also convinced that Paul wrote Hebrews, making a total of 14 letters. Paul also wrote other letters which did not survive, at least one other to Corinth (cf. 1Cor 5:9; 2Cor 10:9-11; 13:1) and one to Laodicea (Col 4:16).
Letters to congregations were intended to be "circular letters." In the first century disciples met together in private homes or halls owned by wealthy patrons (Acts 2:46; 12:12; 15:15, 40; 17:4-5; 18:7; 19:9; 20:20; 21:8; Rom 16:1-5; 1Cor 16:19; Col 4:15 and Phm 1:2). Thus, Paul intended for his letters to be read publicly and passed from one group meeting-place to another within the city or geographical region. Due to the theological and didactic content of the letters, as well as their manner of circulation, Bible scholars identify Paul's letters as "epistles" to distinguish them from ordinary correspondence of that time.
Paul structured his letters in a commonly used form with an introduction, body and conclusion (Polhill 122). In the introduction Paul identified himself as the sender, usually with his title "apostle [shaliach] of Messiah Yeshua" and often referred to his divine appointment. Sometimes he included the names of co-workers on his team, most frequently Timothy (2Cor 1:1, 19; Php 1:1; Col 1:1; 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1; Phm 1:1). He also included Silvanus in his Thessalonian letters and Sosthenes in his first Corinthian letter (1Cor 1:1). Paul then declared to whom he was writing, sometimes using the word "congregation" (Grk. ekklēsia), sometimes "holy ones" and sometimes "brothers." Paul then offers the customary greeting of "grace and peace" (perhaps meaning chesed and shalom in Hebrew).
The body of his letters does not flow from a template, but is organized according to the subject matter he needed to discuss. Sometimes there is narrative and sometimes deep theological reflection, but most often there are hortatory and instructional elements. Within his instructional passages are contained summaries of virtues to develop, vices to avoid and practical applications of Torah principles for family and community living. His letters often contain personal elements, whether his travel desires or plans, his emotional state and requests for personal needs. The variety of literary elements demonstrates Paul's sharp intellect.
The conclusion of his letters is written in conventional style. The concluding section may include an exchange of greetings and parting wishes for the recipients of the letters. Three letters include a doxology in the conclusion (Rom 16:25-27; Php 4:20; 2Tim 4:18). The letter closing usually expresses grace to the recipients.
Paul's letters manifest a strong dependence on the Tanakh. Indeed, the Scripture that Paul described as inspired and suitable for training in righteousness (2Tim 3:16) is the Tanakh. Paul's usage is in keeping with the rest of the Besekh. He uses the familiar formula "it is written" or "it says" 33 times, especially in Romans. He also uses other similar expressions many times, such as "Scripture says," "the Torah says," "Moses says," "David says," or "Isaiah says" to introduce quotations. Paul uses the term "Scriptures" to refer to some portion or all of the Tanakh (Rom 1:2), as well as the term "Torah and the Prophets" (Rom 3:21) or simply the "Prophets" to refer to that portion of the Tanakh (Rom 16:26).
The fourth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek Testament (1993) lists 343 quotations from the Tanakh in the Besekh, as well as no fewer than 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels. The books most used are Psalms (79 quotations, 333 allusions), and Isaiah (66 quotations, 348 allusions) (New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Theopedia). The overall effect of so many references is to anchor the Besekh in the God-inspired words of Israel’s prophets. The number of direct quotations from the Tanakh in Paul's letters has been calculated at 130. The only letter of his without direct quotation or allusion is Philemon. For a detailed listing of direct quotations see the Table of Old Testament Quotes in the New Testament compiled by Joel Kalvesmaki. In addition to the Tanakh there are indications of Paul quoting or alluding to Targumic interpretation, Eph 4:8; 2Th 2:3; 2Timothy 3:8; Heb 1:8-9; 10:5-7.
Paul also provides two quotations that he identifies as coming from certain Greek philosopher-poets: in Acts 17:28, "as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring'" (Epimenides, 6th cent. BC), and in Titus 1:12, "One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and idle gluttons'" (Aratus, 271–213 BC). Some Bible scholars also attribute other proverbial sayings in Paul's works to Greek authors, even though Paul makes no such claim, but these may be found in Scripture or attributed to his own original thought.
Quotations from the Tanakh found in the Besekh are generally taken from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Scriptures. The LXX was finalized and in general use by the middle of the 2nd century BC at the latest (Setterfield). By the first century A.D. the Greek Bible was widely used in the synagogues of the Diaspora and was well known in Israel. However, the reader may notice when checking a reference that occasionally Paul's quotation does not agree literally either with the LXX or the Hebrew text. In these instances Paul may have corrected an extant Greek text or provided his own translation of the Hebrew text. Paul thus employs what could be called "Jewish Greek."
As David Hill of The University of Sheffield affirms, "Not only word-meanings in the New Testament, but also the structure and syntax of New Testament language bear the impress of a special Hebraic influence channeled, for the most part, through the Septuagint" (14). The LXX was used because: (1) Almost all the apostolic writings were written in Jewish Greek, so a Jewish-Greek text of the Tanakh was helpful for quotations. (2) At the time of Yeshua, most Jews were living in the Greek world, and therefore the LXX was the text used by many Jews, if not by most. At that time there was no standardized Hebrew text. The Masoretic Text, as the Hebrew Bible came to be known, was developed over the following centuries (MW-Notes 322).
Sentence structure of Paul's letters is often lengthy and complex. Modern Bible versions attempt to break up Paul's wordy sentences into small portions for easier reading. In his hortatory sections he often follows grammatical rules common to Hebrew. Whereas in English the noun or subject usually comes before a verb in a clause, in Hebrew the verb comes first, giving more emphasis to the subject-noun. For example, in Romans 12:1 a Bible translation might read "Therefore brothers I exhort you," whereas his Greek sentence places the verb first "exhort therefore you brothers." Unlike English, Hebrew confronts the reader with needed action and calls for attention.
The vocabulary of Paul's letters includes many significant words, all rich in meaning: e.g., grace, faith, love, peace, Messiah, Yeshua, Father, Holy Spirit, holy ones, salvation, good news, prayer, holiness, righteousness, commandments, law, sanctification, Israel, covenant, sin, inheritance, redemption, forgiveness and predestination. Not always considered by commentators is that all of these words have their origin in the Tanakh and Jewish usage. Christianity did not invent any of these words.
In addition to key words Paul's letters are full of Hebrew idiomatic expressions, which are not always apparent in Christian translations. For example, "oldness of the letter" (Rom 7:6), "walking according to the flesh" (Rom 8:4), "hardening a heart" (Rom 9:18), "vessels of wrath" (Rom 9:22), "sand of the sea" (Rom 9:27), "walk in Messiah" (Col 2:6), and "sons of disobedience" (Col 3:6). In some passages Paul has composed poetry remarkably similar to the “antiphonal chant” of Jewish worship (Rom 11:33–36, Php 2:6–11, 1Tim 3:16 and 2Tim 2:11–13) and comparable to the Hebrew parallelism of the Psalms, which was the Jewish songbook.
In hortatory instructions Paul makes a significant use of the participle in lieu of an imperative mood. Scholars have long been puzzled over this particular usage of the participle in hortatory instructions concerning rules of social and relational behavior within the community of faith and in families (in Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians). Davies says that non-biblical Jewish writings used the participle in exactly the same manner, and thus Paul's use of the participle as imperative probably reflects Jewish sources (130f). Stern concurs in this information. Whatever Paul may owe to Jewish Sages or even his own Pharisee mentor in terms of his manner of expression, the content of his exhortations flow from his Messianic theology.
In Israelite culture the Heb. word sopher ("so-pheir;" secretary, scribe, BDB 708) was used for the secretary to a king or government official (2Sam 8:17; Ezra 4:8-9), the military scribe who kept the muster rolls (Jer 37:15), and a secretary to a priest (1Chr 18:16) or to a prophet (Jer 36:4, 18, 26, 32). An ancient scribe's appearance with a writing case on his lap is mentioned in Ezekiel 9:2. In later times the sopher was one skilled in the Torah and so qualified to be teachers, lawyers and judges.
Just as Gamaliel had a scribe who penned his letters so it was Paul's habit to dictate his letters except for the conclusion. The most direct evidence for this is in Romans 16:22 where Tertius identified himself as the one who "wrote" the letter. Indirect evidence of a secretary is Paul's statement about writing a sentence "in his own hand (1Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2Th 3:17; Phm 1:19). We may be sure Paul was careful to use believers, rather than public secretaries who worked without any spiritual concern. We also may be sure that while a loyal scribe would be willing undertake the task as work for the Lord, papyrus leaves were expensive so Paul would no doubt pay him for his work. When the letter was finished Paul would review the work, because he was responsible for the content, not the secretary.
To accurately interpret Paul's writings it's very important to begin with understanding the Jewish culture of the first century. Besides being an observant Jew, Paul interacted with Jewish institutions, such as the synagogue and Temple, and Jewish groups, as the Sadducees and Pharisees. The summaries of his letters below identify his references to Israel's history and unique Jewish cultural elements in each letter. For a much more detailed analysis of the Jewish aspects of Paul's letters I recommend David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary.
Listed in order of composition
Christian scholars have generally assumed that the members of the congregations to which Paul wrote were mostly Gentile and that little of the apostolic letters concerned Jews. However, I believe the linguistic evidence of the Besekh supports the thesis that the communities of believers in the apostolic era had a mostly Jewish constituency.
By the first century A.D. there were numerous Jewish settlements in Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Italy and the islands of the Aegean, that had resulted from emigration (sometimes voluntary and sometimes forced) from Babylon (Tarn & Griffith 219). Josephus reported that "the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers" (Ant. XI, 5:2). All of these settlements became the starting point for the apostles to proclaim the fulfillment of prophetic promises, since the Good News was for the Judean Jew first (Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16).
Luke's narrative of Acts and Paul's letters use a variety of terms to describe those who received and responded to the Good News of salvation and then formed the membership of congregations in the apostolic era (e.g., 2Cor 12:11; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). These terms reflect genuine diversity: Jews, Gentiles, circumcised, uncircumcised, men, women, slaves, and free persons. When the historical paradigm of Christianity is discarded we can recognize that the apostles in their writings describe five major categories of Jews: Judean Jews, Hellenized Jews, Hellenistic Jews, Samaritan Jews and Ascetic Jews. In addition, there were Gentile proselytes and God-fearing Gentiles.
For each one a description is provided of the congregation, key verses that especially reflect Paul's Jewish viewpoint, a list of verses that express a Jewish perspective and summary of personal elements in the letter. The list of Jewish characteristics is not intended to be exhaustive.
Galatia was a Roman province bounded on the east by the province of Asia, on the west by the province of Cappadocia, on the south by the provinces of Lycia, Pamphylia and Cilicia and the north by the Black Sea. The word "Galatia" does not appear in the Book of Acts, but Paul's ministry in cities of that region in his first journey (Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch and Derbe) produced groups of Jewish disciples who would have been the recipients of this letter. These locations are assumed in Paul's use of the plural "congregations of Galatia" in 1:2.
The overall message of Galatians is that salvation is accomplished by the grace of God and the faithfulness of Yeshua in becoming the sin offering. Paul provides a defense of his ministry with some autobiographical information and his relationship with leading apostles, especially his confrontation of Peter (Chap. 1–2). He exhorts the congregations to reject sins of the flesh (5:16-21) and seek the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-25). He also counsels personal restoration (6:1-2) and generosity in charitable works for those in the household of faith (6:6, 10).
"A man is not made righteous by legalistic deeds, but through the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua." (2:16 BR)
"But Scripture confined everything under Sin in order that by the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua the promise might be given to the ones being trustingly faithful." (3:22 BR)
"There is neither Judean Jew nor Hellenistic Jew, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. And if you are of Messiah, then you are seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise." (3:28-29 BR)
In 1:4 the phrase "present evil age" reflects the Jewish manner of describing present time in contrast to the "age to come." In 2:16-21 Paul ridicules legalistic righteousness. In 3:6 Paul quotes the affirmation in Genesis 15:6 concerning Abraham, that his faith in God (= faithfulness to God) was counted to him as righteousness. In 3:9 those who follow the Messiah must produce the same sort of faithfulness to be considered "sons of Abraham."
Paul goes on in chap. 3 to declare that the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 15:4-5 points to the Messiah Yeshua. Paul then mentions in 3:17 the prophecy given to Abraham of 430 years transpiring before the Torah would be given at Sinai (Gen 15:13-14). In 3:24 the giving of the Torah to Abraham's descendants was intended to serve as a tutor to bring them to the Messiah that they might be made righteous by the same faithfulness as Abraham. In 3:13 Yeshua's redemptive death is described as a fulfillment of Torah, and in 3:23-24 the Torah is a custodial tutor to bring Jews to the Messiah.
In 4:24-25 Paul speaks of God's covenant with Israel, mentioning the name of Hagar as symbolic of the Old Covenant. Hagar also represented Mount Sinai where the Torah was given, but more particularly Jerusalem of Paul's day by which he meant the transformation of Torah into an oppressive and legalistic tyranny. Those of the New Covenant receive the promise of God, have a right to the Jerusalem above, our true home, and are free of legalistic constraints. When Paul quotes Sarah's words "cast out the servant woman" (Gal 3:30 = Gen 21:10), he meant to cast out legalism as a basis for relationship with God, radical words for a transformed Pharisee (cf. Col 2:16).
In 5:9 he also mentions leaven as an allusion to Passover. The Two Ways, a familiar motif from the Psalms, is illustrated in the contrast between "works of the flesh" and "walking in the Spirit" (5:16-25). In 6:16 he mentions the Israel of God, which equates to the faithful remnant and grafted in Gentiles. In 6:7 Paul quotes a common proverb about reaping what one sows, which is based on the Creation principle of Genesis that everything reproduces after its own kind.
Circumcision is a major subject in the letter (2:3, 7-9, 12; 5:2-3, 6, 11; 6:12-13, 15). In 2:12 Paul seeks to explain the true nature of the Good News of salvation and correct the influence of "The Circumcision" group that claimed to represent Jacob, the Lord's brother. In 5:12 Paul uses shocking language by taunting the legalists to castrate themselves if they think circumcision is so great. What Christians assume is an attack on Judaism has to do with adult circumcision of Gentiles, not circumcision of Jewish babies.
In 1:10 Paul identifies himself as a servant of Messiah, a title used of many significant leaders in the Tanakh and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4). In 1:13 Paul recounts his actions in his former life to destroy the body of Messiah. In 1:14 he uses the term "Judaism" (or "Jewish religion") and mentions the Pharisaic traditions for which he was zealous. Paul then says in 1:15 that he was set apart for God from his mother's womb, an expression used by Isaiah (49:1) and Jeremiah (1:5). He then provides in 1:15—2:1 a brief summary of his activities and ministry after leaving Damascus, a period of fourteen years. In 1:17 he mentions traveling into Arabia, although it's not clear how long he remained there.
In 2:2 he mentions a personal revelation that motivated a trip to Jerusalem, which may allude either to his Damascus road experience (Acts 9:3-6; 26:19-20) or the revelation to Agabus (Acts 9:15-16). In 2:3 he says that he did not require Titus, a Hellenistic Jew, to be circumcised (in contrast to Timothy). In 2:13 he laments that Barnabas, for a time, had fallen prey to the error of the Circumcision group. Paul's rebuke of Peter in 2:15, "We are Judean Jews," reinforces his self-identity as a traditional Jew, not a Christian renegade against Judaism. Paul closes the letter in 6:11 with the comment "See with what large letters I am writing," implying some difficulty with his eyesight.
The city of Thessalonica, located on the coast of Macedonia, was one of the two most important commercial centers in Greece. The recent discovery of a marble inscription, written partly in Greek and partly in a Samaritan form of Hebrew and Aramaic, testifies to the presence of Samaritans in Thessalonica (HBD). The record of Paul's visit to Thessalonica testifies to the presence of a Jewish synagogue where Paul delivered his message of the Messiah (Acts 17:1). The charter members of the new Messianic congregation were Judean Jews and God-fearing Hellenistic Jews (Acts 17:1, 4), and very likely Samaritan Jews.
The letter was written to encourage the members in their afflictions and sufferings; to exhort them to stand fast in the Lord, to abide by his truths and ordinances, and to live a holy life, and to give due attention to the duties of faithfulness, towards God and one another, and those that were set over them. Paul especially instructs the disciples concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the second coming of Messiah. In fact, every chapter ends with a reference to the second coming, with chapter 4 giving it major consideration.
"For you, brothers, became imitators of the congregations of God in Messiah Yeshua that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Judean authorities who both killed the Lord Yeshua and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all mankind, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." (2:14-16 BR)
In 1:10 Paul mentions the "wrath to come" (also in 5:2 and 5:9) an allusion to the Day of the Lord, a frequent prophecy in the Tanakh of God's judgment on the nations.
In 2:14 Paul affirms the Jewish ethnicity of his readers by reference to "your countrymen" (Grk. sumphuletēs, lit. "one of the same tribe," Mounce). He also mentions Judea and Judean Jews in that verse.
In 2:14-15 he mentions the responsibility of the Sanhedrin for the death of Yeshua. The translation of Christian Bibles, inserting a comma between verse 14 and 15, makes Paul's sound as if he were antisemitic. See my translation above. The fact that the Sanhedrin did not carry out the actual execution did not make them less culpable as Peter, Stephen and Paul argued to Jewish audiences (Acts 2:36; 4:10; 7:52; 13:38).
In 3:10 he speaks of praying night and day, which would have coincided with the morning and evening sacrifices at the Temple.
In 4:4 the expression of "possess his own vessel" occurs in rabbinic writings in the sense of acquiring a wife.
In 4:5 Paul exhorts the disciples not to be like the Gentiles, which implies the Jewishness of the congregants.
In 4:9 Paul alludes to the Jewishness of the congregants by his assertion that they are taught of God to love one another, a reference to Leviticus 19:18.
In 4:16 the "trumpet of God" alludes to the shofar blowing at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
In 5:5 the expression "sons of light and sons of day" is terminology used by the Essenes and other Jewish pietists to denote God's elect.
In 5:17 the instruction to "pray unceasingly" refers to the Jewish practice of regular and daily prayer as he mentions of his practice in 3:10 (cf. Ps 5:3; 55:17; 119:164). He does not mean continuous prayer or a "ministry of prayer" that eliminates the necessity of work.
In 5:23 the expression "God of peace" alludes to the covenant of shalom that God makes with His people (Num 25:12; Isa 54:10; Ezek 34:25; 37:26), as well as the last verse of the Jewish prayer Kaddish, "May he who makes peace in his high places ('Oseh shalom bimromav,' from Job 33: 5) make peace for us and for all Israel; and say: Amen."
In 1:1 Paul includes Silvanus and Timothy as correspondents.
In 2:1-2 Paul says that his coming to Thessalonica occurred after having been mistreated in Philippi.
In 2:7 he likens his attitude toward the Thessalonians as a nursing mother.
In 2:9 Paul says that he worked at his trade (tent-making, Acts 18:3) so as not to be a burden to the congregation. Rabbinic law forbid charging a fee for teaching Scripture (Avot 4:5; Nedarim 37a, 62a; Derek Eretz Zuta 3:3), so rabbis typically practiced a trade.
In 2:11 he likens his teaching of disciples in Thessalonica to that of a devoted father.
In 2:16 Paul says that the Sanhedrin had hindered him from speaking the message of salvation to the Gentiles.
Paul's second letter to the congregation in Thessalonica was written not long after the first letter, perhaps a matter of a few weeks.
The second letter like the first deals extensively with last things. In fact, eighteen of the forty-seven verses deal with this subject. Some people had misunderstood Paul's previous instruction on last things and were sure Yeshua was coming very soon and as a result they had stopped working in order to wait. Paul strongly corrects this misbelief with prophetic teaching on the coming of the anti-messiah.
"And you know the restraining now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness already operates; only the restraining just now until out of the midst it comes." (2:6-7 Marshall)
"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught, whether by word or by letter from us." (2:15 BR)
In 2:2 the "day of the Lord" alludes to the day of God's wrath prophesied many times in the Tanakh.
In 2:3-10 the description of the "lawless one" no doubt alludes to the prophecy of Daniel 7:24-26.
In 2:13 Paul uses the word aparchē which means "firstfruits," to describe the Thessalonian believers. In the LXX aparchē renders Heb. reishit, lit. "beginning," "chief," "first of fruits," meaning the first fruits of natural products that were consecrated to the LORD, the giver of fruitfulness (Ex 23:19; Lev 2:12; 23:10; Num 15:20; 18:2; Deut 18:4; 26:2, 10; 33:21). Aparchē most commonly translates Heb. terumah, which denotes the contribution of natural products or money specifically for the priests and Levites (e.g., Ex 25:2; Deut 12:11), similarly understood as a thank-offering to the LORD (DNTT 3:415).
In 2:15 Paul admonishes the congregation to stand firm in the "traditions" he passed on to them, whether written or oral, since Jewish traditions were communicated by both means.
In 1:1 Paul includes Silvanus and Timothy as correspondents.
In 3:8 Paul spoke of working to support himself as he ministered, as he did in his previous letter.
In 3:14 Paul affirmed his apostolic authority by exhorting the congregation not to associate with any person who would not obey his instructions.
In 3:17 Paul ended the letter with a personal greeting in his own handwriting.
Corinth (Grk. Korinthos) was the principal city and capital of Achaia (see map), as well as being a Roman colony. It was situated on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. had controlling access to two seas--the Aegean, about five miles to the east and the Ionian on the west. This proximity to the seas and its nearness to Athens, only forty-five miles to the northeast, gave Corinth a position of strategic commercial importance and military defense. Corinth was an exceedingly pagan city with temples devoted to Apollo, Aphrodite, and Poseidon. The Greek historian Strabo (64 BC – AD 24) reported that the temple of Aphrodite employed over a thousand prostitutes (Geography VIII, 6:20).
Residing in this pagan city, as in the other cities of Greece, was a large population of Jews (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, §XXXVI). Jewish residents of Corinth had their own synagogue (Acts 18:4). The existence of a synagogue in Corinth is pointed to by an inscribed lintel block with enough of the words remaining to make out the reading "Synagogue of the Hebrews" (Mare). Luke identifies two of the seven synagogue rulers as Crispus (verse 8) and Sosthenes (verse 17). The Roman authorities in Greece allowed synagogue rulers to exercise authority over members of their community for both civil and criminal matters as may be evidenced by Gallio permitting Sosthenes to be mistreated by Jewish leaders (Schurer II:263).
Paul visited Corinth during his second journey (c. A.D. 49-52) and ministered there for 18 months (Acts 18:1-18). He stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in the trade of tent-making. He began his ministry of teaching alone, speaking in the local synagogue on the Sabbath and later was joined by Silas and Timothy. Dating Paul's stay in Corinth is deduced from the mention of Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia, in Acts 18:12. Gallio is mentioned on an inscription of the Emperor Claudius at Delphi dated between January and August, A.D. 52. Since the inscription mentions Gallio as already in office in the first half of A.D. 52, he must have begun his duties July 1, A.D. 51, July 1 being the time each year when Roman proconsuls took office.
No mention is made of Gallio being in office when Paul first came to Corinth. Some time later, after opposition to the Messianic message developed (vv. 6-10), Luke records that Paul was brought before Gallio (vv. 12-17). So the conclusion is that Paul arrived in Corinth some time before Gallio, probably by the fall of A.D. 50, a period of about nine months before the appointment of the proconsul. After this official opposition Paul left Corinth for Syria, sailing from Cenchrea (v. 18). Sometime after Paul founded the congregation two other important leaders visited the area: Apollos, reported by Luke (Acts 18:24−19:1; 1Cor 3:6), and Peter, reported by church fathers (Church History, II, 25:8).
The charter members of the Messianic congregation came from Judean and Hellenistic Jews in the local synagogue and God-worshipping Gentiles of Corinth (Acts 18:4, 6-8), thus making a diverse constituency. This letter was not the first written to the congregation as 5:9 mentions a previous letter. This letter was written from Ephesus (16:8). As the letter testifies the congregation in Corinth was the most dysfunctional group of disciples in existence and their vices far exceeded their virtues. The congregation apparently faced external pressures as indicated in 7:26.
See my introductory article Paul's Letters to Corinth.
The letter focuses on a number of vices in the congregation, which far exceeded their virtues. In virtually every chapter of this letter Paul confronts the congregation for a variety of serious failings. Paul gave this general assessment of the congregation: "And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak to you as spirit-filled, but as worldly, as infants in Messiah" (1Cor 3:1 TLV). Later in the letter he says that "some of you have no knowledge of God" (15:34). Here is the list of major issues by chapter:
In spite of the problems, the letter contains some of the most significant instruction in all his letters, such as chapter 12 on spiritual gifts, chapter 13 on love and chapter 15 on resurrection.
"To the Judean Jews I became as a Judean Jew, in order to win Judean Jews. To those under legalism I became as one under legalism (though not being myself under legalism) that I might win those under legalism." (9:20 BR)
"Give no offense to Judean Jews or to Hellenistic Jews or to the assembly of God." (10:32 BR)
For in one Spirit we all immersed ourselves into one body - Judean Jews or Hellenistic Jews, servants or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (12:13 BR)
Paul uses a number of quotations from the Tanakh in the letter. Only Jews and proselytes would have been familiar with the words and content of Scripture.
1:19— Isaiah 29:14.
1:31— Jeremiah 9:24
2:9— Isaiah 64:4; 65:17
2:16— Isaiah 40:13
3:19— Job 5:13
3:20— Psalm 94:11 (LXX Psalm 93:11)
5:13— Deuteronomy 17:7
6:16— Genesis 2:24
9:9— Deuteronomy 25:4
10:7— Exodus 32:6
10:26— Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 24:1 (LXX Psalm 23:1);
14:21— Isaiah 28:11-12
15:27— Psalm 8:4-6
15:32— Isaiah 22:13
15:45— Genesis 2:7
15:54— Isaiah 25:8
15:55— Hosea 13:14
In 1:1 Paul makes reference to "Christ" (Grk. Christos) which is a Jewish title for the Messiah (Heb. Mashiach, "Anointed One"). Christos has no religious meaning in Greek culture. The title occurs over 50 times in this letter.
In 1:12 Paul refers to groups there that claimed allegiance to well-known figures. It was not unusual for Jews to divide themselves into religious parties (e.g., Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots). Some members considered Apollos their leader and another group claimed allegiance to Peter. It In addition there was a third group that claimed allegiance to "Messiah." The title may refer specifically to Yeshua and perhaps members of this group had heard Yeshua's teaching during a visit to Jerusalem for a pilgrim festival. It's also just as likely that the "Messiah" group refers to a splinter Jewish group similar to the Circumcision party. In other words they had their own idea of the identity of the Messiah.
In 1:20 Paul asks a rhetorical question, "where is the wise man … scribe … debater," which may allude to a rabbinic saying, "the Holy One, blessed be He, showed to the first Adam every [coming] generation with those in it who search and expound [dor dor v'dorshav], every generation with its wise men [dor dor v'chachmav], every generation with its leaders [dor dor v'parnasav]" (Avodah Zarah 5a) (MW-Notes 265).
In 1:22 Paul says that Judean Jews seek signs where as Hellenistic Jews seek wisdom.
In 2:6-7 Paul's saying on God's hidden wisdom is comparable to a Qumran passage: "By the mysteries of Your insight [You] assigned all these things to make Your glory known. [But what is] the spirit of flesh that it might understand all these things and obtain insight into the council of [Your] great [wonders]" (DSS 1QHa 5:19-20; quoted in MW-Notes 266).
In 2:8 the "rulers of this age" who crucified Yeshua alludes to Caiaphas and the chief priests who had the greater sin. Also, the words "of this age" reflects the Jewish manner of describing present time in contrast to the "age to come.
In 2:14 the contrast between the foolishness of the soul and spiritual discernment may allude to a Jewish wisdom saying, "Some desires are mental, others are physical, and reason obviously rules over both" (4Macc 1:32 RSV).
In 3:13 "the day" is an allusion to the Day of the Lord announced by the Hebrew prophets in which God will judge the nations in wrath and deliver His people.
In 3:16 the Jerusalem Temple is used as a metaphor for the people of God.
In 4:3-5 the phrase "human court," lit. "day of man" is an idiom used to describe the judgments of this age, in contrast to the "day of the LORD," the time when God will judge the earth.
In 5:1 Paul rebukes the congregation for tolerating a kind of immorality not found among the Gentiles (which indirectly affirms the Jewishness of the audience). A member had taken his "father's wife," lit. "a wife one of the father." This manner of description alludes to the practice of polygamy. Polygamy was sanctioned by Torah and commonly practiced among Jews in the apostolic era (Sanh. 2:4; Yeb. 44a; Josephus, Ant. XVII, 1:2). The woman was not his biological mother. This story is comparable to that of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob who violated Jacob's concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22, 49:4). It would not have been an issue if the man's father was dead.
In Jewish culture all wives and concubines of a man were entitled to the same degree of respect and care. Jewish law required that someone who violated his "father's wife" was to be "cut off" from Israel (K'ritot 1:1). However, the Torah punishment of death (Lev 20:11) could not be imposed because God had transferred capital punishment to the government (Rom 13:1-4), and the Roman government did not punish immorality of its citizens. Instead Paul appeals to the congregation to cut off the man from the fellowship of the community with the hope that it would bring him to repentance (5:5).
In 5:3-5 Paul's instruction alludes to the Torah requirement that someone who violated his "father's wife" was to be "cut off" from Israel (Lev 18:29), which is then defined as being stoned to death (Lev 20:11). Jewish law affirmed stoning as the proper punishment (Sanh. 7:5). However, under the New Covenant the blood of Yeshua atones for all sins, including capital crimes, and the Yeshua's own instructions for dealing with sinning members does not authorize capital punishment (Matt 18:15-19). This is not a matter that could be brought before a Greek or Roman court. The pagan courts did not punish the immorality of its citizens. Instead Paul directs that the congregation have an assembly in which the man is confronted concerning his sin.
The congregation elders are to deliver Paul's summary judgment in absentia to turn over the guilty person to Satan, i.e. excommunicate the person as a fitting punishment in order that he might be saved. "Satan" (Grk. Satanas; Heb. Satan) is a figure first revealed in the Tanakh and Jewish literature. The hope is that cutting off the man from the fellowship of the community would bring him to repentance (1Cor 5:5). There is a discussion in Sanhedrin about the stubborn and rebellious son of Deuteronomy 21:18-21. In the discussion a Mishnah states, "A stubborn and rebellious son is tried on account of his end: let him die clean and let him not die liable [to judgment]" (Sanh. 8:7).
In 5:7 Paul commands them to remove "old leaven," an allusion to the house cleaning that occurs before the commencement of Passover. He then describes Yeshua as the Passover sacrifice. The description does not mean to liken Yeshua to the lamb killed for the Passover Seder, but the sin offering on Nisan 15, the first day of the Passover festival.
In 5:8 Paul points out that removal of leaven is necessary for them to celebrate Passover in a righteous manner. A Jewish saying has it, "Sovereign of the Universe, it is known full well to Thee that our will is to perform Thy will, and what prevents us? The yeast in the dough [i.e., the evil inclination with us] and the subjection to the foreign Powers" (Berachot 17a). Paul's instruction assumes continued participation in the Passover festival in Jerusalem.
In 5:11-12 Paul extends his ruling of "turning over to Satan" as applicable to other "so-called brothers" who are guilty of capital crimes. He lists six specific crimes, but these are by no means exhaustive. As with the specific case he passed judgment on other serious sins in the congregation are to be dealt with by cutting off fellowship.
In 6:1 Paul's rebuke of lawsuits is based on the Torah expectation that disputes between members of the community of faith would be resolved within the community (Lev 19:17). The Talmud states, "R. Tarfon used to say: In any place where you find heathen law courts, even though their law is the same as the Israelite law, you must not resort to them since it says, These are the judgments which thou shalt set before them, that is to say, 'before them' and not before heathens" (Gittin 88b).
In 6:2 Paul's comment that "the holy ones" will judge the world may be an allusion to Yeshua's promise to his apostles that they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). This announcement is eschatological and anticipates that at the second coming, God's people, who are joint heirs with Messiah (Rom 8:17) will reign and judge the world with him in his millennial kingdom (2Tim 2:12; Rev 20:4; cf. Dan 7:22 and Matt 19:28).
In 6:5-6 the use of adelphos, "brother," lit. "of the same womb," could refer to actual siblings engaging in the lawsuit or at least kinsmen.
In 6:9-10 Paul presents a catalog of sins that would cause someone to be disqualified from inheriting the Kingdom of God. All the sins listed are prohibited in the Torah and the exclusion occurs in connection with the final judgment. The thing all the offenses have in common is their association with pagan temples. Based on the instruction of the previous chapter any congregation member caught in one of these sins must be confronted and disciplined in order that he might be saved on the Day of the LORD. Stern notes that the idea that a person can profess belief in God or in Yeshua and still highhandedly go on sinning is repugnant to the writers of Scripture.
In 6:12 the statement "all things are permitted to me" is not intended to reflect Paul's viewpoint, but the viewpoint of some in the congregation. The opinion is essentially antinomian. Paul counters this misbelief by pointing out that not all things are profitable or fitting for self-control. Stern notes that these antinomians would later be called gnostic libertines.
In 6:15-16 Paul's statement that having sex with a prostitute makes the man "one body" with her does not mean they are married. He quotes from Genesis to affirm that God intended sexual relations to be exclusive to marriage. In Israelite culture sex with an unmarried woman generally created a marriage obligation (cf. Ex 22:16-17; Deut 22:28-29). However, sex with a pagan prostitute would result in unequal yoking, which is expressly forbidden.
In 6:19 the Jerusalem Temple is used again as a metaphor, this time of the human body. Just as the Shekinah glory dwelled in the Holy of Holies, so the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer.
In 6:20 the idiomatic expression "bought with a price" does not refer to redemption ("buying back"), but rather direct purchase. By accepting Yeshua the believer has transferred ownership of himself to Yeshua on the basis of the payment of Yeshua's blood.
In 7:2 Paul's instruction to be married reflects the Talmudic saying, "A man has no right to live without a wife, and a woman has no right to live without a husband" (Tos. Yebamot 8:2) (MW-Notes 270).
In 7:3-5 Paul's directive for spouses to satisfy intimacy needs echoes the Torah instruction of Exodus 21:10. According to rabbinic guidance the frequency of marital intimacy depended on the husband's occupation (Ketubot 5:6; 61b-62b).
In 7:9 he repeats the principle of verse 2. The Talmud speaks of lust as a burning passion (Kidd. 81a).
In 7:18-19 Paul mentions circumcision and asserts that keeping God's commandment is a disciple's first priority.
In 7:39 mentions the Jewish law that death of a husband frees a woman for remarriage. The qualification of "only in the Lord," implies remarriage to a believer, but could also allude to the Lord's requirement of Levirate marriage if her husband died without a male heir (Deut 25:5). In addition, Paul's allowance reflects a specific legal issue of the time and a ruling of Gamaliel, Paul's teacher. The death of a person had to be established by two or three witnesses, but Gamaliel taught that a woman was free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony of her husband's death (Yebamot 15:5).
In 8:6 Paul asserts that the God and Father of Israel is the Creator and the only God in existence, alluding to the declaration of the Shema (Deut 6:4).
In 9:4-14 Paul presents a kal v’chomer ("how much more") argument to assert that as an emissary of the Messiah he was entitled to stop working for a living and to be supported by them.
In 9:13 he mentions the right of priests in the Jerusalem temple to share in the food offered as a financial support principle.
In 9:20 Paul speaks of Judean Jews being under the bondage of legalism.
In 9:21 he alludes to Hellenistic Jews as those "without the law."
In 10:1-11 Paul recounts the history of Israel from the Red Sea crossing through the years in the wilderness. This lesson would be meaningless to pagan Greeks.
In 10:2 Paul elevates the stature of Moses by saying that the Israelites were "immersed into Moses" by their passage through the Red Sea.
In 10:4 the rock in the wilderness that gave the Israelites water was actually Yeshua.
In 10:7-8 the golden calf idolatry in the wilderness and the resulting plague serve as a warning.
In 10:10 there is the mention of "grumbling" of Israelites in the wilderness.
In 10:16 the "cup of blessing" is an allusion to the third cup in the Passover Seder.
In 10:24 Paul alludes to the second great commandment in his exhortation to seek the good of one's neighbor.
In 10:30 Paul alludes to the Jewish practice of offering a b'rakhah (blessing) when partaking of food.
In 10:31 the instruction that in eating or drinking one should give glory to God alludes to the participation in communal meals of the pilgrim festivals, which were conducted to give glory to God by obedience to the Torah command.
In 10:32 Paul instructs the factions in the congregation not to give offense to Judean Jews or Hellenistic Jews.
In 11:7 and 12 Paul refers to the order of Creation by saying that the man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man.
In 11:23-26 Paul recounts Yeshua's last observance of Passover as the basis for enacting the ritual for the Lord's Supper.
In 11:25 he mentions the "New Covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31). See my commentary on 1Corinthians 11.
In 14:8 the "trumpet" equals the silver trumpet of Numbers 10:2, 9.
In 14:29 Paul exhorts disciples to engage in theological analysis of public teaching and prophesying to determine consistency with revealed Scripture.
In 14:27 he instructs that any foreign or unknown language spoken in a service by translated. If there is no interpreter the speaker is to keep silent.
In 14:37 Paul reminds them (and modern disciples) that his instruction is the Lord's commandment. See my commentary on 1Corinthians 14.
In 15:8 Paul's mention of being "prematurely born" probably alludes to the Torah passage of a woman giving birth by virtue of being hit (Ex 21:22).
In 15:52 the mention of the "last trumpet" alludes to the shofar blowing at Rosh Hashanah.
In 15:20, 23 the word "first fruits" is used to represent Yeshua's resurrection, an allusion to the first fruits offering in the Temple on Reishit Qatzir that fell on the first day of the week following Passover (when Yeshua was resurrected).
In 15:29 Paul mentions a Jewish practice of being "immersed for the dead," perhaps an allusion to 2Macc 12:43-44. The immersion is self-immersion. Paul does not mention the practice in order to recommend it, but simply to point out that those engage in the practice must believe in the resurrection. See my commentary on 1Corinthians 15.
In 16:1-5 there is instruction on taking a collection for Jewish disciples in Judea. Among Jews any humanitarian aid was to be collected by two and distributed by three (Baba Bathra 8b). The collection is taken on the first day of the week (16:1) since money transactions were prohibited on the Sabbath. While Paul does not refer to the first day as the Lord's Day, a term likely coined by John (Rev 1:10), the mention does imply a gathering for worship. When worshipping on the first day of the week began for early believers is unknown. It could have started shortly after the Ascension, not only in celebration of the resurrection but also in memory of Yeshua’s appearance to the disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19). The resurrection remembrance service probably followed at the conclusion of Sabbath observance at sundown, as in Acts 20:7 where Paul’s teaching until midnight is spoken of as taking place on the first day of the week.
In 16:15 he uses this "first fruits" metaphor again, this time in reference to Stephanus. This use of "first fruits' would be an allusion to the first fruits offering at Shavuot when empowerment of the Holy Spirit made evangelism of the nations possible.
In 16:22 the technical word maranatha, "let him be accursed," probably originated from the courtroom, since Jewish legal documents were often written in Aramaic.
In 1:1 Paul includes Sosthenes as a correspondent.
In 1:14-16 he mentions that he was responsible for only a few immersions in Corinth, that of Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanus.
In 1:17 he asserts that Yeshua did not commission him to immerse people, but to proclaim the good news.
In 3:6 he compares himself to Apollos by saying that he planted and Apollos watered and in 3:10 he says he laid a spiritual foundation in Corinth.
In 4:4 in an honest self-evaluation Paul states, "I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord."
In 4:9-13 Paul lists common experiences of the apostles in which he has shared.
In 4:15 he speaks of becoming their spiritual father.
In 4:16 he exhorts the Corinthians to imitate him.
In 5:3 he says that he has already judged the man in the congregation guilty of incest.
In 5:10-12 he clarifies something that he had written to them on a previous occasion.
In 7:7 Paul expresses a wish that all men were like him, not meaning the state of unmarried celibacy, but serving God according to His call and gifting.
In 9:18 Paul mentions that he did not charge for proclaiming the Good News. Rabbinic law forbid charging a fee for teaching Scripture (Avot 4:5; Nedarim 37a, 62a; Derek Eretz Zuta 3:3; cf. 1Cor 9:18; 2Cor 11:7), so rabbis typically practiced a trade.
In 9:19-23 Paul speaks of accommodating himself to different groups, meaning that he made adjustments in the manner of his witnessing to reach different Jewish parties and Gentiles.
In 9:20 his statement that he became as a "Jew" is not a tautology even though he was ethnically Jewish, a "Hebrew of Hebrews." Rather he means that he lived by the same rules as the legalists in order to minister to them.
In 14:18 he claims that he speaks in multiple languages, but he does not mean the "glossolalia" associated with pagan temples of the time or in modern practice.
In 16:8 he says he would remain in Ephesus until the time for Shavuot.
In 16:21 he concludes the letter with a personal greeting in his own handwriting.
Paul's second letter to the congregation in Corinth was written a few months after the letter identified as First Corinthians. At least two letters had preceded this one (cf. 1Cor 5:9; 2Cor 10:9-11; 13:1). In 1:1 Paul extends his greeting to all the disciples in the region of Achaia, so this letter had a wider distribution than the first.
Paul had several overriding purposes in writing. First, he wanted to inform them of the intensity of his trouble in Asia and solicit their prayer for future deliverance, as well as explain changes in his itinerary. Second, he wanted to express his approval of the Corinthians' positive response to his "severe letter" that had been delivered and reinforced by Titus. Third, he wanted to exhort the congregation to complete their promised collection for the disciples in Jerusalem in preparation for his arrival. Fourth, he wanted to stress the certainty of his coming, his authenticity as an apostle and his readiness as an apostle to exercise discipline if necessary.
"Are they Hebrews? I also. Are they Israelites? I also. Are they seed of Abraham? I also. Are they servants of Messiah? (I speak beside myself) I am more." (11:22-23 BR)
"Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves! Or do you not recognize yourselves, that Messiah Yeshua is in you? If not, are you counterfeit? But I hope that you will know that we are not counterfeit." (13:5-6 BR)
In 1:3-7 Paul follows the liturgical formula for a Jewish b'rakhah (blessing). The praise is directed to the Father rather than to Yeshua.
In 1:5 Paul's statement about "the sufferings of Messiah are ours in abundance" hints at Psalm 34:19 and Psalm 94:19.
In 1:20 all the promises given to the patriarchs and Israel are "yes" in Yeshua. (This means the promises have not been transferred to Christianity.)
In 2:11 Paul mentions Satan who first appears in the Garden and then in the story of Job.
In 2:14 the expression "sweet aroma" is an allusion to the incense offering prescribed in the Torah (Lev 2:2; 6:15).
In 2:17 Paul's ethical principle of not charging for the good news reflects a rabbinic value (Avot 4:5).
In 3:6 Paul mentions the New Covenant, which was prophesied by Jeremiah as a promise for Israel and Judah (Jer 31:31).
In 3:7 he mentions the stone tablets which contained the words of God.
In 3:13 he mentions Moses veiling his face because of the glory of God.
In 3:14-15 the mention of the "Old Covenant" and Moses being read, refers to the Torah portion read in a synagogue service.
In 5:10 Jewish expectation of judgment at the end of the age is alluded to in the statement, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah."
In 5:20 the call to "be reconciled to God" alludes to the expectation of personal peacemaking and reconciliation during the ten days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Any relational sin that had not been forgiven could not receive atonement.
In 5:21 Paul says that Yeshua was sinless and that his death served as a sin offering (as translated in CJB, MACE, MRINT, NJB, NLT, OJB, TLV, and WESLEY). The translation of many versions that God made him "to be sin" implies that Yeshua became sinful on the cross, and fails to recognize that the Hebrew word for "sin" is also used of the sin offering in the Torah.
In 6:14 the exhortation not to be bound to unbelievers alludes to the Torah commandment to avoid mixing unlike things and people (Ex 34:11-12, 15-16; Lev 20:5-6; Num 25:1-2; Deut 22:10; 31:16).
In 6:16 Paul alludes to the Temple using it as a symbol of the Body of Messiah.
In 8:1—9:15 the letter addresses the matter of collecting an offering for the disciples in Judea.
In 9:7 Paul's statement on how to give reflects the Talmudic saying, "it is the same whether one gives much or little, as long as he directs his heart to his Father who is in Heaven!" (Shevuoth 15a)
In 11:2 Paul uses the verb "betrothed," a term related to marriage. In Jewish culture marriage involved two stages or two ceremonies, erusin (betrothal) and nisuin (consummation). Betrothal meant that from that point the woman belonged to the man. That is, the woman became forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. Betrothal made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death.
In 11:31 Paul attests his integrity with a Jewish blessing "He who is blessed forever knows that I am not lying," what could be called a typical Jewish hodayah (eulogy) (Santala 9).
Overall the letter contains an emotional response from Paul not seen elsewhere in his writings (Chaps. 1, 4—5, 7, 10—12), ranging from personal despair to incredible ecstasy.
In 1:1 Paul includes Timothy as a correspondent.
In 1:16 he mentions a planned journey to Judea.
In 1:8 he speaks of sufferings experienced in Asia.
In 1:19 he says that Silvanus and Timothy shared in his ministry in Corinth.
In 11:7 Paul mentions that he did not charge for proclaiming the Good News. Rabbinic law forbid charging a fee for teaching Scripture (Avot 4:5; Nedarim 37a, 62a; Derek Eretz Zuta 3:3), so rabbis typically practiced a trade.
In 11:8 Paul mentions being accused him of pocketing money for himself that they had collected for the relief of disciples in Judea. Paul passionately defends his integrity and his apostolic authority. His opponents in Corinth will experience his authority firsthand by divine validation if they fail to repent of their wicked attitudes.
In 11:22 Paul stresses his ethnic heritage as being a Hebrew, an Israelite, and a descendant of Abraham.
In 11:23-33 Paul offers a lengthy description of his trials and burdens, including imprisonments, being beaten and stoned, being shipwrecked, and being in various kinds of dangers. He also mentions his escape from Damascus soon after his transformation and commencement of ministry.
In 12:2-4 he describes an incredible experience of being caught up to the third heaven.
In 12:7 Paul says that as a result of the sublime revelation he was given a "thorn in the flesh" to insure he remained humble. Commentators favor a physical ailment, but his mention of a "messenger from Satan" implies the "thorn" was an adversary in Corinth. False teachers were challenging both Paul’s integrity and his authority.
See my complete verse-by-verse commentary on Romans.
The city of Rome, Italy, the capital of the Roman Empire. The congregation may have began as a result of pilgrims at Pentecost (Acts 2:10) returning home with the good news of Yeshua. The congregation consisted of Judean Jews, Hellenistic Jews and proselytes or God-fearing Gentiles (cf. 1:13; 2:17; 3:1, 9, 29-30; 4:1; 7:1; 15:8-9). It appears from 16:3-5 that Priscilla and Aquila hosted a group of the disciples in the city at their home. This is the longest of Paul's letters and the only one in which he does not name a companion or coauthor.
The primary theme of the letter is the good news of God's plan of salvation and righteousness for all mankind. Romans is Paul's most systematic and comprehensive statement of Messianic belief and practice. For Paul the faithfulness of God and Yeshua is the basis of salvation. Paul especially emphasizes the election of Israel and rebuts the lie of Patristic and Reformed Christianity that God had rejected the Jews. See my Introduction to Romans.
"For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to all the trusting ones, firstly to the Judean Jew, but also to the Hellenistic Jew" (1:16 BR). [NOTE: Paul simply states the historical sequence of the good news being proclaimed.]
"I say the truth in Messiah, I am not lying, my conscience testifying with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself to be a curse, I from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to flesh, 4 who are Israelites, whose are the adoption, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of Torah and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Messiah according to flesh, who is over all. Blessed be God into the ages. Amen." (9:1-5 BR)
"For Messiah is the goal of the Torah as a means to righteousness for everyone who keeps trusting." (10:4)
"For there is no distinction between Judean Jew and Hellenistic Jew; for the same Lord of all is rich toward all calling on Him." (10:12 BR)
"I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He knew beforehand." (11:1-2)
Paul mentions the names of important personalities from the history of Israel: David (1:6; 4:6; 11:9), Abraham (4:1-3, 9, 12-13, 16; 9:7; 11:1), Sarah (4:19; 9:9), Adam (5:14), and Moses (5:14; 9:15; 10:5, 19), Isaac (9:7, 10), Jacob (9:13; 11:26), Esau (9:13) and Elijah (11:2).
Paul mentions Judean Jews six times (2:17, 28-29; 3:1, 29; 9:24) and then contrasts them with Hellenistic Jews five times (1:16; 2:9-10; 3:9; 10:12).
He mentions the practice of circumcision a dozen times (2:25-29; 3:1, 30; 4:9-12; 15:8).
Several times Paul speaks of the act of being "justified" (2:13; 3:20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1, 9; 6:7; 8:30, 33) to express the Hebrew concept of tsadeq, to be just or right, to vindicate the cause of, to do justice, to make righteous. In Jewish thought this act would not be a simple imputation but a substantive impartation. Being "justified" is a real change in character.
In 1:1 Paul identifies himself as a servant of Messiah Yeshua, a title used of many significant leaders in the Tanakh and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4).
In 1:3 he identifies Yeshua as the "son of David." In 1:7 the use of "our Father" connects himself to his Jewish readers since God first revealed himself as "father" in relation to Israel.
In 1:20 he mentions the creation of the world.
In 1:21 to the end of the chapter the retrospective of man's fall into idolatry reflects the conditions in Genesis 11.
In 1:25 (also in 9:5) Paul incorporates a Jewish b'rakhah (blessing) of God as "blessed forever."
In 2:11 Paul asserts the principle from Deuteronomy 10:17 that there is no partiality with God.
In 2:28-29 Paul asserts that being a "true Jew" is not just a matter of blood but also the heart.
In 3:30 the phrase "God is one" alludes to the Shema (Deut 6:4).
In 4:19 he says that in spite of the "deadness" of Sarah's womb Abraham kept faith in the promise. His mention in the same verse that Abraham at age 100 was "as good as dead" (an idiom he also uses in Heb 11:12) does not reflect his virility as commonly thought, but rather a rabbinic saying "at a hundred, one is as one that is dead, having passed and ceased from the world" (Avot 5:21). The various ages described in Avot have to do with physical ability for manual labor or pursuing a vocation. Abraham's virility is demonstrated by his fathering Ishmael and later his six sons by Keturah.
In 6:7 Paul's statement "for he who has died is freed from sin" appears to draw on the Jewish tradition that says an individual’s own death atones for his sin (Berachot 60a; Sanh. 6:2; Yoma 86a; Isa 22:14).
In 7:1 he writes to people who know the Scriptures, indicating the congregants are Jews and/or proselytes.
In 7:3 Paul's comment about the nature of marriage reflects a specific legal issue of the time and a halakhic ruling of Gamaliel, Paul's mentor and teacher. The death of a person had to be established by two or three witnesses, but Gamaliel taught that a woman was free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony of her husband's death (Yebamot 15:5).
In 8:3-4 Yeshua died as a sin offering so that the requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in his disciples.
In 8:23 (also 11:16 and 16:5) Paul uses a word meaning "first fruits," an allusion to the first fruits offering in the Temple during Reishit Qatzir that fell on the first day of the week following Passover (when Yeshua was resurrected) and on Shavuot (Pentecost).
In 9:4 Paul repeats the benefits given by God to Israel, treating them as still in effect rather than being rescinded as many Christians believe.
In 12:1 the mention of being a "living sacrifice" alludes to a situation in which an animal was mistakenly presented at the temple for sacrifice, but once the mistake was discovered it could not be un-offered. So, although they were sacrifices, the animals were kept alive as temple property.
In 13:9 Paul quotes from the second table of the Ten Commandments.
In 14:5 the contrast reflects the debate between Hillel and Shammai over the significance of the days of the week (Beitza 16a).
In 14:6 Paul mentions the Jewish practice of thanking or blessing God for food as prescribed in the Mishnah (Berachot 7:1).
In 15:4 Paul asserts the value of Scripture, which at the time could only mean the Tanakh.
In 15:33 and 16:20 the expression "God of peace" alludes to the covenant of shalom that God makes with His people (Num 25:12; Isa 54:10; Ezek 34:25; 37:26), as well as the last verse of the Jewish prayer Kaddish, "May he who makes peace in his high places (Oseh shalom bimromav, from Job 33: 5) make peace for us and for all Israel; and say: Amen."
In 16:25 Paul says that the mystery of the Messiah had been hidden for long ages.
In 1:9-10 Paul mentions his faithful prayers on behalf of the congregation.
In 8:26 Paul no doubt includes himself when he says "we do not know how to pray as we should."
In 9:1-3 Paul expresses his deep sorrow for unbelieving Israelites and even his willingness to be accursed if it would result in their salvation. Does this sound like someone who abandoned Judaism to invent an antisemitic religion?
In 10:1 he mentions his constant prayer for the salvation of his people and he hoped to move his fellow countrymen to jealousy (or zeal) in order to save some (10:14).
In 15:15-17 Paul says that Yeshua had made him a priest in ministering the good news of salvation.
In 15:18 he says that through the power of Yeshua he had been successful in his mission to Gentiles.
15:22-24, 28 he declares his intention to come to Rome and on to Spain if the Lord wills.
In 15:25-27 he says that he is engaged in a charitable endeavor on behalf of disciples in Judea.
In 16:2 he mentions that Phoebe had been a personal help to him.
In 16:4 he says that Prisca and Aquila had risked their lives for him.
See also my commentary on Yeshua's letter to Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7).
Ephesus, the fourth largest city in the world at this time, was located in western Asia Minor at the mouth of the Cayster River, and was an important seaport. Paul stopped at Ephesus at the end of his second journey, left Priscilla and Aquila there (who apparently founded the congregation), and returned to Antioch (Acts 18:18-21). The membership included Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 1:1; 2:11-12, 19). Afterwards, Apollos ministered there (Acts 18:26). Paul, on his third journey, spent more than two years in Ephesus teaching in the synagogue and in the hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19—20).
At the conclusion of this mission trip, on his way back to Israel, Paul stopped at Miletus and sent for the elders of the Ephesian congregation so that he might speak with them (Acts 20:17). Paul mentions Ephesus five times in other letters (1Cor 15:32; 16:8; 1Tim 1:3; 2Tim 1:18; 4:12). Paul characterized his ministry at Ephesus as a great opportunity for spreading the good news, but also a place of many adversaries (1Cor 16:8-9).
The letter to the Ephesian congregation is a sublime treatise that emphasizes the ascended and enthroned Messiah as the Lord of the community of faithful disciples, the world and the entire created order. Paul highlights the mystery of God's will that had been revealed to him (1:9; 3:3–4:9; 5:32; 6:19), that Messiah has broken down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles and created the Commonwealth of Israel in fulfillment of the promise to Jacob (2:12-14). The theme of the letter is unity and Paul gives due attention to relationships in the congregation, households and employment. He closes with a powerful revelation of the spiritual warfare experienced by God's people and calls the community to fervent intercessory prayer.
"Therefore, keep in mind that once you—Gentiles in the flesh—were called “uncircumcision” by those called “circumcision” (which is performed on flesh by hand). At that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. … So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. You have been built on the foundation made up of the emissaries and prophets, with Messiah Yeshua Himself being the cornerstone." (2:11-13, 19-20)
The frequent use of verbs denoting God's actions with the first person plural pronoun "us" (1:3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 19; 2:4, 5, 6, 7; 3:20; 5:2) would especially appeal to the Jews in the congregation.
The "blessing" in 1:3 is in the common Jewish format for a b'rakhah. Also, the phrase in this verse "chose us before the foundation of the world" refers not to Christianity but to Israel. Israel was to be a holy nation (Ex 19:6).
In 1:10 the mention of the "fullness of times" and "the summing up of all things in Messiah" alludes to the Messianic hope of Jews for the millennial age in which Messiah would rule over the earth.
In the second chapter the use of the second person plural pronoun "you" and second person plural verbs (2:1-2, 8, 11-13, 17, 19) connect with the Gentiles in the congregation.
In 2:11 Paul mentions "uncircumcision" as a pejorative term referring to Gentiles and "circumcision" as the Judean splinter group that insisted on Gentile circumcision for salvation.
In 2:12 the phrase "covenants of promise" alludes to the covenants God made with the patriarchs, Israel, Aaron and David.
In 2:12 the reference to "Commonwealth of Israel" alludes to the promise God made to Jacob that he would become a "company of nations" (Gen 28:3; 35:11).
In 2:14 the "dividing wall" alludes to the partition that kept Gentiles from entering the Temple.
In 2:20 the mention of "prophets" refers to the Hebrew prophets who produced the Tanakh. The "Prophets" are part of the foundation of the Body of Messiah, so the Tanakh is still authoritative Scripture for disciples of Yeshua.
In 2:21 Paul also alludes to the Temple using it as a symbol of the Body of Messiah.
In 3:9 he affirms the God of Israel as the Creator of all things.
In 4:17 Paul alludes to the Jewishness of the congregation by exhorting them not to be like the Gentiles.
In 4:30 the "day of redemption" is the day, according to the Hebrew prophets, in which God will deliver Israel from all her enemies.
In 5:2 he likens the death of Yeshua as a sin offering and the "fragrant aroma" alludes to the burnt offering in the Temple.
In 5:8-9 Paul likens the congregation to Light, which may indicate Essene influence.
In 5:19 Paul mentions the making of music such as existed in the Temple: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
In 5:26 the "washing of water" alludes to the mikveh ablutions of women.
In 5:21—6:4 the instruction on domestic relations functions as a midrash on Torah commands (Gen 2:24; 3:16; Ex 20:12; Deut 6:7).
In 6:14-17 the pieces of spiritual armor are generally likened to the armor of a Roman soldier, but all the metaphors occur in the Tanakh: belt of truth (Isa 11:5); shod feet (Isa 52:7; Ps 9:17); shield of faith (Ps 28:7; 76:3; 91:4-5); and helmet of salvation (Isa 59:17).
In 1:16 Paul mentions his prayers for the congregation.
In 3:1 (also 4:1; 6:20) Paul is a prisoner.
In 3:14-18 Paul bows his knees in prayer for the Ephesian congregation that they might gain spiritual power and insight.
In 6:19 he requests prayer that he might be bold in communicating the good news.
In 6:20 he says that he is in chains.
In 6:21 Paul is sending Tychicus so they will receive a first-hand report of his situation.
Philippi was a Roman colony and chief city in Macedonia. Paul first visited Philippi on his second journey in response to his Macedonian vision (Acts 16:9). The congregation began with a prayer meeting on the river bank. When Paul spoke, Lydia, a "worshiper of God" and others opened their hearts to the Lord (Acts 16:13-15). The description of Lydia implies that she had had contact with Jewish influence in the past. As a rule, Paul first went to the Jewish synagogue when he came to a new city. Historians report that every major city in the Diaspora had a synagogue. Scholars assume that since there is no mention of Paul's usual practice that Philippi had no synagogue. This is not proof that there had never been a synagogue there.
The circumstances that led to the incarceration of Paul in the town jail hints at what might have happened. Paul healed a possessed slave girl and her owners charged that Jews were troubling the city by teaching customs unlawful for Romans to observe (Acts 16:20-21). With this climate of antisemitism in a Roman colony Jews may have been compelled to leave the city, just as Caesar Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome. The prayer group at the river may have been what was left of that former Jewish presence. After a time Jews returned to the city just as they did in Rome. The congregation at the time of this letter was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles as evidenced by the content. Noteworthy is that the word "joy" in its various forms occurs sixteen times in the letter.
The theme of the letter is "joy," or "rejoicing in the Lord. The word "joy" in its various forms occurs sixteen times. Paul describes his personal circumstances and offers many practical exhortations for living. Paul gives perhaps the most profound statement of the meaning of the incarnation found in his writings (2:5-11). Paul also warns of the danger of the legalists (3:2-4) and libertines (3:18-21). The letter closes with an expression of gratitude for the generosity of the congregation.
"Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, those worshipping in the Spirit of God, and rejoicing in Messiah Yeshua, and having no confidence in flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in flesh, I more so: circumcision the eighth day, of the lineage of Israel ["Jacob"], of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; with respect to Torah, a Pharisee; with respect to zeal, persecuting the assembly of Messianics; with respect to the righteousness in legalism, having become blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Messiah." (3:2-7 BR)
In 1:1 Paul addresses his letter to the "holy ones," a term that would resonate with traditional Jews in the congregation. Also in 1:1 the presence of overseers (Grk. episkopos) and deacons (Grk. diakonos) are actually offices common to a synagogue. The overseers would be equivalent to the "rulers of the synagogue," who included the nasi or administrator of the synagogue, the chazan or public minister of the synagogue, and the rabbi. The deacons would be equivalent to the almoners or parnasin in the synagogue who cared for the poor, distributed alms and were expected to be scholars of the Scriptures (Moseley 9-10).
In 2:15 the analogy of disciples as "lights in the world" would likely hint at the claim of the Qumran community that they were "sons of light."
In 2:17 Paul draws on the imagery of Temple worship in describing himself as being poured out as a drink offering. The drink offering, usually one-fourth of a hin (about 1 quart or liter) of wine, accompanied various sacrifices (Ex 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5-24; 28:2-15) and represented the life that was poured out to God.
In 3:2 Paul warns of the false circumcision, probably an allusion to the splinter Pharisee group that advocated the circumcision of adult Gentiles in order to be saved.
In 3:3 Paul connects with the Jews in the congregation by saying "we are the true circumcision who worship God without putting confidence in our circumcised flesh."
In 4:9 the expression "God of peace" alludes to the covenant of shalom that God makes with His people (Num 25:12; Isa 54:10; Ezek 34:25; 37:26), as well as the last verse of the Jewish prayer Kaddish, "May he who makes peace in his high places (Oseh shalom bimromav, from Job 33: 5) make peace for us and for all Israel; and say: Amen."
In 4:18 Paul describes the gift he received from Philippi as a "fragrant aroma, an allusion to the burnt offering in the temple.
In 1:1 Paul includes Timothy as a correspondent. He also identifies the two of them as servants of Messiah Yeshua, a title used of many significant leaders in the Tanakh and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4).
In 1:7, 13 Paul is incarcerated.
In 1:3-4 he offers prayer for the congregation.
In 1:19; 2:24 he fully expects that through their prayers he will be eventually released.
In 1:21-23 he is ready to die for Yeshua.
In 2:25 he indicates his plan to send Epaphroditus to Philippi.
In 3:5-6 Paul touts his Jewish credentials. He points out that he is a "Hebrew of Hebrews" and a Pharisee, which means that he not only spoke Hebrew, but that he had a Hebraic worldview and approach to religion.
In 3:5 he mentions his own circumcision on the eighth day as required by the Torah, indicating his parents were observant Jews.
In 3:8 he mentions having lost all things, which could be a reference to his standing with the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin and perhaps rejection by family members.
In 4:2-7 Paul attempts to mediate a reconciliation between Euodia and Syntyche, two women whom he regarded as fellow-workers in ministry. He does not reveal the nature of their conflict, but he gives wise counsel to remedy their hurt feelings.
In 4:15-18 he expresses gratitude for a gift he received from Epaphroditus sent by the congregation for his support.
In 4:22 Paul offers greetings from the "holy ones" in the household of Kaisar, translated in all Bible versions as "Caesar," which commentators take to mean the Roman emperor. This interpretation seems doubtful considering the meaning of "holy ones" among Jews, assuming some sort of connection between the wealthiest household of the Empire and the congregation of Philippi, and assuming Paul gaining first hand knowledge of such a relation. A better possibility is that Paul means Kaisar, a Hellenized Jew who was one of the seventy sent out by Yeshua (according to Hippolytus), and who later became overseer in Dyrrachium (modern Albania). The church father Dorotheus says that this Kaisar ("Caesar") was the one mentioned by the apostle, and this is the only place in his letters that Paul mentions the name of Kaisar.
The city of Colossae was located in the southwest corner of Asia Minor in what was then the Roman province of Asia. Hierapolis and Laodicea were situated only a few miles away. By Paul's day it had lost much of its importance, perhaps due to the growth of the neighboring cities. Whether Paul ever visited Colossae cannot be determined although he did pass by on his third journey (Acts 18:23). His influence was felt, however, during his ministry in Ephesus, since Acts 19:10 records that all Asia heard the good news. The congregation was probably started by Epaphras (1:7). The region included a mixture of people native to the area, Greeks, Romans, and transplanted Jews. The congregation no doubt reflected the same diversity.
Paul had received a report of the situation at Colossae by way of Epaphras (1:7-8). This report was for the most part favorable (2:5). But the subject matter in the letter indicates that the congregation was facing the danger of religious syncretism and Paul felt the need to remind the disciples of the all-sufficiency of Messiah Yeshua and provide practical guidance for living in faithfulness to Yeshua. Paul's theme is that in Messiah we have been made complete (2:10).
"Therefore let not anyone judge you in eating and in drinking, or in the matter of an appointed festival or Rosh Chodesh [new moon] or sabbaths, which are a foreshadowing of the future and the body of Messiah. (2:16-17 BR)
"Here there is no longer Hellenistic Jew and Judean Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free; but Messiah is all and in all." (3:11 BR)
In 1:4, 12, 26 Paul uses the familiar Jewish title of "holy ones," a term that would resonate with Jewish congregants.
In 1:15 and in 1:16 Paul mentions that all things in the heavens and earth were created by Yeshua.
In 1:23 Paul says that the good news was proclaimed "in all creation under heaven," which could be an allusion to the belief in the stars as signs or portents of God's great plan of redemption.
In 1:26 he says that the mystery of God's plan was hidden in past ages.
In 2:8 the "tradition of men" may allude to the Circumcision Party, since he goes on to mention circumcision in 2:11. The mention of the "uncircumcision" is not proof that the recipients of the letter were exclusively Gentiles, because many Hellenistic Jews had abandoned circumcision.
In 2:16 Paul alludes to specific appointed times on God's calendar: pilgrim festivals, new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and Sabbaths (plural). All holy days were days of rest. His comment concerning these holy days is not to rescind them, but to give freedom from legalistic rules in observance.
In 2:18 the "worship of angels" appears to refer to a Jewish liturgical practice that venerated angels or regarded angels as mediators with God.
In 3:11 Paul mentions categories of Jews, though not recognized in Christian versions: Hellenistic Jews (rather than "Greeks"), Judean Jews, circumcised (which would include Judean Jews, Hellenized Jews, Samaritan Jews and proselytes) and uncircumcised (Hellenistic Jews and Gentiles).
In 3:12 the use of "chosen people" reflects the election of Israel.
n 3:16 Paul mentions types of Jewish music used in worship services. The book of Psalms served as the primary hymnbook of the Jewish people.
In 3:18-21 the instruction on domestic relations functions as a brief midrash on Torah commands (Gen 2:24; 3:16; Ex 20:12; Deut 6:7).
In 4:6 the exhortation to let speech be "seasoned with salt" is an allusion to the covenant of salt God made with Aaron (Lev 2:13; Num 18:19-20). Salt was frequently added to sacrificial offerings. So, what comes out of our mouths should glorify God.
In 4:7 Tychicus is a "servant in the Lord," a title used of significant leaders in the Tanakh and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4).
In 1:1 Paul introduced himself as "shaliach of Messiah Yeshua by the will of God." He also includes Timothy as a correspondent.
In 1:7 Paul identifies Epaphras as a servant of Messiah Yeshua and one for whom he held special affection.
In 1:24; 4:3, 18 Paul mentions that he wrote this letter while he was incarcerated.
The letter does not give an author nor an amanuensis. However, statements of church fathers and internal evidence point clearly to Paul as the author. See my article Hebrews: An Introduction.
The letter titled Hebrews was apparently a kind of "open letter" intended to be circulated among Messianic Jewish synagogues or groups in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora. The title "To the Hebrews" is found on the oldest MSS. The subject matter concerns both Messianic Jews and unbelieving Jews. The use of "Hebrews" is appropriate to the universal appeal of the letter. "Hebrews," referring as it does to descendants of the first Hebrew, Abraham (Gen 14:13; cf. 2Cor 11:22), avoids the rivalry of sectarian groups within first century Judaism.
Several passages provide information about the intended audience. Apparently the recipients are characterized by spiritual immaturity (5:11-12). At the same time the author acknowledges their good works for the needy (6:9-10). The recipients had also suffered greatly in the past with loss of property and imprisonment (10:32-34), but not martyrdom (12:4). Harsh treatment of Messianic believers occurred in many of the cities where Paul brought the good news.
Paul expresses concern for the continuing faithfulness of Jewish followers of Yeshua. Some had been severely tested and intense pressure was felt from family and synagogue leaders to abandon Yeshua. Similar to Stephen's defense before the Sanhedrin, though not as confrontational, this letter sets forth the biblical evidence that Yeshua is the supreme revelation of God (1:1-4). He then proceeds to establish the excellence of Yeshua, who is superior to the angels (1:5—2:18), to Moses (3:1—4:13), and to the priests of Aaron's line (4:14—7:28). Yeshua is the superior sacrifice (8:1—10:39). The letter goes on to make a plea for persevering faithfulness (11:1—12:29).
"At many parts and in many ways, God having spoken long ago to the fathers among the prophets; 2 in these last days has spoken to us by the Son, whom He appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe." (1:1-2 BR)
1. The letter begins with announcing Yeshua as the supreme revelation of God (1:1-4) and then proceeds to establish Yeshua's superiority. Yeshua is superior to the angels (1:5—2:18), to Moses (3:1—4:13), and to the priests of Aaron's line (4:14—7:28). Yeshua is the superior sacrifice (8:1—10:39). The letter goes on to make a plea for persevering faithfulness (11:1—12:29).
2. There are over thirty direct quotations from the Tanakh, second only to Romans. In general the prolific quotations and allusions to the Tanakh are typical of Paul's manner of argument. In addition, quotations from the Tanakh in Hebrews that appear elsewhere in the Besekh, with one exception, are made only by Paul:
· 1:5 and 5:5 — the quote from Psalm 2:7 also appears in Paul's sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:33).
· 1:6 — the quote from Deuteronomy 32:43 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 15:10.
· 2:6-8 — the quote from Psalm 8:4-6 appears elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 15:27.
· 10:30 — the quote from Deuteronomy 32:35 occurs also in Romans 12:19.
· 10:37-38 — the quote from Habakkuk 2:3-4 is quoted elsewhere only in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.
· 11:18 — the quote from Genesis 21:12 appears elsewhere only in Romans 9:7.
3. Paul makes many historical references. The names of prominent personalities in the Tanakh are mentioned, including Moses (11 times), Abraham (10 times), Melchizedek, (8 times), Isaac (4 times), Jacob (3 times), David (2 times), Esau (2 times), and once each for Abel, Enoch, Noah, Sarah, Joseph, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and Samuel. Each of these famous persons has a spiritual lesson associated with his or her name.
4. Paul makes many references to aspects of Jewish culture and religion, particularly the Old and New Covenants, the Torah, the Tabernacle, the priesthood, sacrificial offerings, tithes, and the Day of Atonement. See the complete list in the introductory article.
Four times (3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22) Paul uses the direct address of "brothers" to indicate both his ethnic bond and close relationship with his readers.
In 12:9 Paul alludes to the fact that like other Jewish boys he was disciplined by his father.
In 13:22 Paul uses humor to say that he had written a brief exhortation.
In 13:23 Timothy had been imprisoned, but had been released and Paul expects to accompany Timothy when he comes.
In 13:24 Paul bears greetings from those in Italy.
This letter was written to Philemon, a believer in Colossae. As background Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, had stolen from Philemon, run away and met Paul in Rome. The letter is also addressed Apphia, the sister of Philemon, to Archippus another fellow worker and to the disciples who met in Philemon's house. This personal letter apparently accompanied the letter to the Colossian congregation and sought to reconcile Onesimus and Philemon. The letter was apparently delivered by Tychicus & Onesimus (Col 4:7-9).
Paul writes a very personal letter to appeal to Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother, not as a servant.
"If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account" (Phm 1:18 NASB)
In 1:14 Paul's self-limitation and appeal to Philemon is consistent with the Jewish ethical standard of derekh-eretz ("way of the Land"), in that the Torah gave Philemon absolute authority over his servant Onesimus.
In 1:1 Paul identifies himself as a prisoner of Messiah Yeshua, which alludes to his house arrest in Rome.
In 1:1 Philemon is considered a beloved brother and fellow worker.
In 1:4 Paul mentions his prayers for Philemon.
In 1:9 Paul describes himself as an older man. By this time he had been an apostle for some 25 years.
In 1:22 Paul requests that Philemon prepare him lodging as preparation for his release.
Timothy, whose name means "one who honors God," was a ministry associate of Paul. The name of Timothy occurs 20 times in the apostolic writings, but the KJV inexplicably spells the name "Timotheus" 12 times and "Timothy" 8 times. Timotheus, virtually a transliteration, is the spelling in the Latin Vulgate. Timothy was apparently a native of Lystra (cf. Acts 16:1-2; 20:4), a city visited by Paul on his first journey (Acts 14:6). Bible versions identify Timothy's father as a "Greek" (Grk. Hellēn, Acts 16:1, 3), and his mother Eunice was a Jewess. However, Hellēn more likely means "Hellenistic Jew" (as it does in John 7:35; 12:20; Acts 14:1) and Timothy's mother was an observant Hebraic Jew. Both Timothy's mother and his grandmother Lois were godly influences (2Tim 1:5). Eunice had apparently embraced Yeshua as Messiah on Paul's first journey to Derbe and Lystra, because, when he next visited these cities, she is spoken of as "a Jewish woman who was a believer" (Acts 16:1).
Paul was strongly attracted to Timothy, recognizing his spiritual character and suitability for the work of the ministry (Acts 16:3). Timothy agreed to Paul's request to assist in ministry, but before departure two important actions were completed. The first act was to circumcise Timothy, since by Jewish law he was a Jew. Some interpreters believe Paul only did this to appease Jewish disciples. While there would have been a practical benefit for ministry among Jews, Paul was first and foremost an observant Jew himself and believed in Jews honoring the requirements of Torah. So, Paul took Timothy with his consent and circumcised him.
The second act was to have Timothy formally recognized ("ordained") by the local congregational elders in Derbe and Lystra (1Tim 4:14). In this ceremony Paul himself took part, as he later mentions (2Tim 1:6). Timothy then accompanied Paul on both the apostle's second and third journeys to various cities and assisted in ministry (Acts 17:14; 19:22; 20:4; 2Cor 1:1; 2Th 1:1). Timothy demonstrated his competence and reliability to such a degree and Paul was able to both leave him to work in certain places, as well as send him on missions to various cities to work (Acts 17:14-15; 1Cor 4:17; 16:10; 1Th 3:1-7).
The letter was written after Paul's release from his first imprisonment, c. 62-64 AD.
Paul desired to give Timothy guidance in congregational management. He particularly warns Timothy about false teachers and heretical movements. Paul offers practical instruction for marital relations, appointment of leaders, discipline within the congregation and care of widows. Paul is especially concerned that Timothy guard his spiritual life.
"Trustworthy is the saying and deserving of complete acceptance: 'Messiah Yeshua came into the world to save sinners'—of whom I am foremost." (1:15)
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Messiah Yeshua." (2:5 MW)
In 1:4 Paul urges Timothy not to pay attention to arguments over myths and genealogies, which may refer to Jewish midrashic elaboration of the genealogies of the Patriarchs or to Jewish elitism based on blood heritage.
In 1:7-9 Paul engages in a midrash on Torah using four different forms of the Grk. word (nomodidaskalos, nomos, nomimōs and anomos) and in which he declares the Torah to be good.
In 1:8 Paul implies a definition of legalism, "using the law [Torah] unlawfully," i.e., contrary to God's intentions.
In 1:9 the statement that the Torah is not given for the righteous does not mean the Torah should not be studied. Rather the point of the Torah is to make clear what constitutes sinful behavior so the righteous can be warned and the wicked condemned, which is the point of verses 9-10.
In 1:11 the accolade "blessed God" would be shorthand for the Jewish saying "the Holy One, Blessed be He."
In 1:17 the "only God" echoes the teaching of the Tanakh that the God of Israel is the only God in existence.
In 2:12 Paul gives what appears to be a startling instruction. The translation of this verse in many versions asserts that women are not to teach men, which seems to contradict the active role of women in Paul's ministry, including the fact that Priscilla helped teach Apollos (Acts 18:26; her name is listed before her husband), and Junia, wife of Andronicus, was counted as an apostle (Rom 16:7). In this verse the Greek word rendered "woman" (gunē), also means "wife," and the Greek word rendered man (anēr), also means "husband." The verse following indicates that Paul is thinking of Adam and Eve so the context is marriage. A better translation is offered by Daniel Gruber, "And I do not entrust to a wife either to teach or exercise authority over a husband, but to be peaceable" (Messianic Writings).
In 2:14 he stresses that Eve was deceived, but Adam was not.
In 3:1 Paul quotes a contemporary Jewish saying. The word for overseer (Grk. episkopos) occurs in the LXX for both religious and military supervisory offices (Num 4:16; 31:14; 2Kgs 11:15, 18; 2Chr 34:12, 17; Neh 11:9, 14, 22; 12:42).
In 4:1-5 Paul condemns asceticism of marriage and diet as a demonic doctrine and contrary to Torah and Jewish practice.
In 4:4-5 Paul mentions the Jewish practice of thanking or blessing God for food as prescribed in the Mishnah (Berachot 7:1).
In 4:7-8 Paul offers a gentle rebuke of the Hellenistic passion for athletic pursuits and stresses the importance of training in godliness.
In 4:10 Paul quotes another contemporary saying that the God of Israel is the Savior of all people.
In 4:13 the public reading of Scripture is borrowed from synagogue practice.
In 4:14 the expression "laying on of hands" alludes to the Jewish manner of ordination called in Hebrew semikhah.
In 5:3-16 Paul rules that widows over 60 would be supported by the congregation if there were no family members to assume the duty (1Tim 5:4-10). Paul’s instruction concerning widows, however, sounds remarkably like application of the Torah obligation of yibbum to marry the widow of a brother without a male heir.
In 5:14 Paul expresses a strong desire that younger widows (those of childbearing age) would be married. It is not unthinkable that in his Jewish understanding he would expect the nearest male relative to take on the Torah responsibility.
In 5:17, 19 Paul says that he appointed elders in the congregations he founded, similar to synagogues.
In 1:2 Paul describes Timothy as a "true child" in faith.
In 1:3 Paul is in Macedonia and Timothy is in Ephesus apparently as pastor.
In 1:13 Paul gives a poignant self-description of being "formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor."
In 1:18 he mentions prophecies that had been made about Timothy, probably referring to the occasion of his ordination (4:14).
In 1:20 he mentions Hymenaeus and Alexander whom he had handed over to Satan for discipline.
In 3:14-15 and 4:13 Paul plans return to Ephesus.
In 5:23 Paul advises Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and other ailments. Wine was an important beverage in Temple sacrifices, festival gatherings and home meals, but the ancients also recognized the beneficial use of wine in moderate amounts.
The letter is addressed to Titus, a Roman first name of unknown meaning. Titus was a Hellenistic Jew (Gal 2:3), but nothing else is known of his background. His name appears eleven other times in the Besekh: 8 times in 2Corinthians, twice in Galatians (2:1, 3) and once in 2Timothy (4:10). Though Acts does not mention Titus, he was a fellow worker in Paul's ministry as shown in his letters. Titus accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem in an early trip (Gal 2:1), probably on the famine relief visit (Acts 11:28-30). Titus was later entrusted with delivering Paul's severe letter to Corinth (2Cor 2:1-4) and correcting problems there (2Cor 7:13-15). The letter was written after Paul's release from his first imprisonment. Paul wrote the letter while traveling (3:12). At the time of the letter Titus was leading the congregation on the island of Crete (1:5; 3:12), which consisted of Jews and Gentiles.
Similar to his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote Titus to offer guidance in responding to opposition and false teachers with practical advice for appointing congregational leaders, managing household relationships and exercising discipline within the congregation.
"Paul, servant of God and shaliach of Messiah Yeshua, for the faithfulness of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth that is according to godliness, in the hope of life eternal, which God, who cannot lie, promised before eternal time, but at the proper time revealed in His own word in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior." (1:1-3 BR)
In 1:1 Paul identifies himself as a servant of God, a title of used of significant leaders in the Tanakh and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4).
In 1:1 the phrase "chosen of God" is an allusion to the election of Israel.
In 1:2 Paul says "the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago." This promise is implied in the promise given to the Woman in the Garden (Gen 3:15).
In 1:5 Paul says he intended for Titus to appoint elders, a practice adopted from synagogue organization.
In 1:10 he includes those of the Circumcision among the "rebellious, vain talkers and deceivers."
In 1:14 he mentions Jewish myths as something to avoid. The phrase "commandments of men" in 1:14 would be equivalent to the traditions of the Pharisees.
In 3:9 Paul urges Titus to avoid foolish controversies and genealogies, which may refer to Jewish midrashic elaboration of the genealogies of the Patriarchs or to Jewish elitism based on blood heritage. In the same verse he also makes reference to "disputes about Torah," a constant feature of Rabbinic discussions.
In 1:4 Paul regards Titus as his "child in the faith."
In 1:5 he reminds Titus of why he was left in Crete.
In 3:12 Paul indicates his intention to spend the winter in Nicopolis.
in 3:13 he requests that Titus to expedite the journey of Zenas and Apollos.
Timothy's location is uncertain. This is Paul's last letter written during his last imprisonment, at least four years after the first letter, perhaps shortly before his martyrdom in 68 AD (4:6).
Paul had three reasons for writing to Timothy. First, he wanted to report his situation to Timothy. He was lonely, having been deserted by some friends and he wanted Timothy to join him. Second, he was concerned about the welfare of discples during this time of persecution under Nero. Third, he wanted to exhort Timothy in the maintenance of his spiritual life and conduct of his ministry.
"All Scripture [i.e., the Tanakh and apostolic writings] is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed." (3:16-17)
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (4:7)
In 1:6 the "laying on of hands" alludes to the Jewish manner of ordination called in Hebrew semikhah.
In 2:8 Paul mentions that Yeshua is a descendant of David.
In 2:24 he speaks of a "servant of the Lord," a title used of significant leaders in the Tanakh and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4). In 3:8 he mentions Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses. Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned in the Tanakh, but they are identified in Targum Jonathan (Num 22: 22) as sons of Balaam, and also as the magicians in Pharaoh’s court who tried to equal the feats of Moses (Ex 7: 11–12; 8: 7, 18–19; 9:11). They are described elsewhere as having been among the “mixed multitude” who followed the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex 12:38), and as instigators of the golden calf debacle (Ex 32:1). They are also mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian apocrypha (Stern 652).
In 3:15 he reminds Timothy that he has known the Scriptures [the Tanakh] since childhood. The learning of Scripture began at the age of five (Avot 5:21).
In 4:6-7 Paul draws on the imagery of Temple worship in describing himself as being poured out as a drink offering. The drink offering, usually one-fourth of a hin (about 1 quart or liter) of wine, accompanied various sacrifices (Ex 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5-24; 28:2-15) and represented the life that was poured out to God.
In 1:1 Paul asserts his office as shaliach of Messiah Yeshua.
In 1:2 he regards Timothy as his "beloved son."
In 1:3 he constantly remembers Timothy in prayer and longs to see him.
In 1:5 he mentions the names of Timothy's mother and grandmother.
In 1:8 Paul mentions being a prisoner.
In 1:11 Paul identifies himself as having been appointed to three Jewish offices, that of herald (Grk. kērux; Heb. karôtz, a word found frequently in Rabbinic writings; DNTT 3:51), messenger (Grk. apostolos; Heb. shaliach) and teacher (Grk. didaskalos; Heb. moreh).
In 1:15 Paul laments that many had turned away from him, including Phygelus and Hermongenes.
In 2:1 he calls Timothy "my son."
In 3:10 he says that Timothy had emulated his teaching and manner of life.
In 3:11 he recounts persecutions endured in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, as well as the Lord's deliverance.
In 4:9 he says that Demas has left him and requests Timothy to come soon.
In 4:13 he asks Timothy to bring his cloak and books.
In 4:21 he urges Timothy to come before winter.
In 4:19-21 Paul closes the letter with greetings for certain persons and greetings from certain persons.
The letters of Paul are a powerful witness to the good news of God. They also set forth God's expectations of those who choose to follow Yeshua. Peter's evaluation that Paul writes "some things hard to understand" (2Pet 3:16) may explain why there has been so much theological discussion and debate on his letters among Bible interpreters down through history. Note that Peter said "some" and not "all." For many believers the "hardness" of Paul's instruction is that it's hard to accept. Some interpreters even regard Paul's guidance as culturally influenced and not relevant to modern practice. Such rejection of Paul's instruction no doubt fits in with Peter's analysis that the ignorant and spiritually unstable twist Paul's words out of shape to their own destruction. We would do well to heed the inspired words of Paul, because they are the Word of God.
ABP: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot. Ed. Charles Van der Pool. Apostolic Press, 2006. An interlinear of the Septuagint with English translation. Online.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Davies: W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. rev. ed. Harper Torchbooks, 1967.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols. ed. Colin Brown, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
HBD: Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991. Online.
Hill: David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000.
Mare: W. Harold Mare, 1 Corinthians. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Moseley: Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
MW: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. MW-Notes: Annotations by the author.
Polhill: John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters. B & H Academic, 1999.
Santala: Risto Santala, Paul: The Man and the Teacher in the Light of Jewish Sources. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1995. Online.
Schurer: Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 4 vols. trans. Peter Christie. T&T Clark, 1885. Online.
Setterfield: Barry Setterfield, Alexandrian Septuagint History, 2010.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Copyright © 2018 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.