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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Publishing Epistles | Wanting God

ABSTRACT: Letter writing through the New Testomony period concerned a number of steps and included extra folks than is commonly assumed. Earlier than authors like Paul composed letters to Christian communities, they first wanted to accumulate details about the scenario dealing with their readers. Throughout the composition of their writings, the apostles generally collaborated with their companions and labored immediately with a secretary. As soon as the creator was glad with the letter, a number of folks have been entrusted to ship it to the meant recipients. Lastly, in some instances, letter carriers returned with a report in regards to the writing’s reception and up to date developments locally.

The letters contained within the New Testomony are among the many most studied, quoted, and mentioned writings within the biblical canon, however simply how a lot do we all know in regards to the precise course of that led to the composition and circulation of those sacred texts? When the apostle Paul determined to jot down to believers in Thessalonica, for instance, how would he have gone in regards to the job? Did he merely retreat for a time from his typical actions and write in isolation as he waited on the Spirit to information his pen?

Whereas there’s a lot that we have no idea in regards to the explicit circumstances that led to the manufacturing of every letter, what will be established in regards to the ministry of the apostles and the widespread literary conventions of the Greco-Roman world could present us with a primary sense of how the letters within the New Testomony have been composed and delivered. On this essay, we’ll contemplate the position that letters performed within the ministry of the apostles and the way they have been seemingly produced and despatched. Opposite to what is likely to be assumed, the proof means that a number of folks performed a job within the manufacturing and distribution of the canonical letters.1

The Features of New Testomony Letters

Whereas it could be tough for some in our digital age to know, we discover indications that the apostles and their companions favored private interplay over written communication. In his letter to “the elect girl and her kids,” the apostle John states, “Although I’ve a lot to jot down to you, I might quite not use paper and ink. As a substitute I hope to return to you and discuss nose to nose, in order that our pleasure could also be full” (2 John 12). The same assertion seems in John’s writing to Gaius and people in his native meeting (3 John 13–14). John was not alone in preferring face-to-face interplay. The apostle Paul additionally expressed his want to be together with his readers and to minister to them in individual (see, for instance, Romans 1:13; 15:22–23; 1 Thessalonians 2:18). This emphasis on private instruction is echoed in one among Polycarp of Smyrna’s extant writings from the second century, through which he displays upon Paul’s ministry. In his letter to the neighborhood in Philippi, Polycarp writes,

Neither I, nor anybody like me, is ready to rival the knowledge of the blessed and wonderful Paul, who, when residing amongst you, rigorously and steadfastly taught the phrase of reality nose to nose together with his contemporaries and, when he was absent, wrote you letters. By the cautious perusal of his letters it is possible for you to to strengthen yourselves within the religion given to you.2

This temporary description of Paul’s relationship with the Philippians underscores the truth that his most well-liked technique of communication was private “nose to nose” interplay, the identical sort of interplay most well-liked by John. Written letters definitely served an vital position, however in-person ministry offered the apostles and early Christian leaders the chance to talk extra extensively a couple of broader vary of points, to attraction extra on to the feelings of people (what the Greeks known as pathos), to reply and reply to questions, to make clear issues of confusion, and to personally observe how people responded to their educating and exhortations.

On many events, nonetheless, the apostles have been unable to personally go to Christian communities the place believers have been experiencing confusion, inside battle, exterior opposition, or religious discouragement, or the place they wanted primary instruction and oversight. Paul, for instance, usually discovered himself imprisoned (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:23) or unable to depart his space of ministry and journey to those that wanted his steering. In these conditions, he might ship one among his trusted companions, corresponding to Timothy or Titus, to minister on his behalf, or he might compose a letter that addressed their considerations. Because the church expanded away from Jerusalem, the rising want for apostolic instruction in distant places was usually met with the manufacturing of letters.

The Collaborative Nature of Historical Writing

Whereas it’s clear that the apostolic letters served an vital position, what do we all know in regards to the means of composition? When somebody like Paul decided to jot down to believers outdoors of his rapid neighborhood, what steps would he must take? To reply this query, we should always first observe that letter writing was not at all times the remoted exercise we would think about. The biblical authors labored immediately with various companions through the letter-writing course of.3 That is in line with what is understood of historical writing practices and is evidenced by clues inside the New Testomony letters themselves. As we look at Paul’s writings particularly, we discover proof of three particular contributions that have been made by those that labored immediately with the biblical writers.

Sources of Info

To at least one diploma or one other, every of the New Testomony letters is occasional in nature. Moderately than writing about issues of private curiosity for a basic viewers, the biblical authors tended to jot down to deal with particular circumstances and the considerations of these particularly communities. In a world through which data flows immediately and conveniently, we will simply overlook the truth that writers corresponding to Paul didn’t have an up-to-the-minute consciousness of the challenges and conditions dealing with believers all through the Roman world. Though Paul wrote underneath the inspiration of the Spirit, he didn’t possess full data of the state of every neighborhood and would have subsequently discovered himself in fixed want of latest and dependable details about the circumstances dealing with believers all through the Roman world.

We’d ask, subsequently, how Paul got here to find out about conditions such because the false educating that had made its technique to Galatia, the various issues that wanted to be addressed in Corinth, or the interior divisions that had fashioned in Philippi. The reply is that people sometimes traveled from these places to the place Paul was positioned, bringing with them stories about latest developments and the present state of the native church buildings. On some events, people have been despatched from a local people to replace Paul in regards to the scenario they confronted, inquire about particular considerations and points, or help him in sensible methods. We discover, for instance, that Paul realized in regards to the scenario in Corinth from members of Chloe’s family (1 Corinthians 1:11) and from others corresponding to Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who had made their technique to Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:17). We additionally discover that Epaphroditus was despatched by the church in Philippi to minister to Paul throughout one among his imprisonments (Philippians 2:25–30; 4:18).

“Letter writing was not at all times the remoted exercise we would think about.”

Along with those that introduced information from distant places, writers corresponding to Paul usually acquired details about the circumstances of these in Christian communities from their very own companions. On many events, Paul seems to have despatched sure people to minister in areas with a newly fashioned church or the place there could have been a specific want for steering and instruction. We discover, for instance, that Timothy was instructed by Paul to minister in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and that Titus was despatched to Crete (Titus 1:5). From these places, they may have written to Paul with updates in regards to the state of affairs of their rapid neighborhood.

On different events, Paul’s companions could have traveled for under a short time earlier than returning to him or departing to a brand new location. Upon their return, they may present Paul with updates in regards to the points dealing with believers the place they’d just lately traveled and provide a report in regards to the reception of his earlier instruction. These insights would usually show very important to Paul as he weighed the potential of penning a brand new or follow-up letter to these he couldn’t personally go to. We discover, for instance, that he relied partly on data provided by Titus when he composed 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:5–16) and on the report of Timothy when he penned 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:1–6).

The position that these insights and stories performed within the composition of the New Testomony letters is a part of the method of divine inspiration. Whereas God impressed the human writers of Scripture, we might also affirm that the writing course of concerned human thought, reflection, creativity, and varied literary practices of the time. In brief, we could affirm that the divine origin of Scripture doesn’t preclude the chance that the authors employed widespread literary practices through the compositional course of. Conversely, we might also acknowledge that varied folks enjoying a job within the manufacturing and distribution of the writings doesn’t preclude the Spirit’s steering all through the compositional course of.


After receiving stories in regards to the circumstances dealing with believers in a specific space, Paul usually determined to compose a letter that addressed the problems that have been of concern to them. Along with collaborating together with his companions and those that had firsthand data of the circumstances dealing with his readers, Paul’s obvious customized was to work immediately with a secretary when composing his letters. Along with various statements on the finish of his letters, a transparent indication that Paul used a secretary seems in Romans 16:22, the place a secretary named Tertius affords a private greeting.

A lot is understood of the obligations of secretaries within the Greco-Roman world from the extant writings of historical figures and the invention of a big physique of manuscripts in places corresponding to Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. These discoveries reveal that these from all walks of life made frequent use of secretaries. They weren’t used merely by the rich, who might afford such a luxurious, or by those that have been illiterate and had no alternative however to rent knowledgeable to compose vital paperwork for them. Moderately, the proof means that it was widespread for folks of all backgrounds to enlist the providers of a skilled secretary, although the explanations for doing so usually differed. One shouldn’t assume, subsequently, that Paul and different writers of Scripture would have had little use for a secretary just because they may compose a written textual content for themselves.


These skilled as secretaries got here from completely different backgrounds and labored in quite a lot of settings. Some have been professionals who provided their providers for a charge, whereas others have been educated slaves who assisted their masters with written correspondence, the manufacturing of enterprise and authorized paperwork, and even literary works. A well-known instance of the latter is Tiro, the slave of Cicero, who was praised by his grasp for his superior literary skills. One of many most important variations between Paul and people corresponding to Cicero was their monetary scenario. In mild of what we learn about Paul’s background, it’s unlikely that he would have had the means to rent knowledgeable scribe every time he composed one among his letters, and he definitely didn’t have any slaves who might serve on this position. We’d infer, subsequently, that people with specialised literary expertise and coaching usually served as Paul’s secretaries professional bono, concerning the time they spent aiding Paul as an vital contribution to the work of the Lord. Curiously, there could even be a touch within the phrases of Paul’s secretary Tertius, who wrote that his work on the letter was “within the Lord” (Romans 16:22) — maybe suggesting that he provided it as an act of Christian service.4

The manufacturing of letters was costly and time-consuming. Longer writings corresponding to Romans or the Corinthian letters would have required many hours of labor for a secretary to finish, to not point out the numerous expense of the provides. In his illuminating examine of secretaries within the Greco-Roman world, E. Randolph Richards estimated about twenty years in the past that it could have price over $2,000 in fashionable forex to rent a secretary to help with a writing the size of Romans or 1 Corinthians.5 Whereas it’s tough to find out the exact price of manufacturing historical writings, hiring a secretary would have been a substantial expense. This might clarify why most first-century letters tended to be a lot shorter than a typical Pauline writing. Like somebody making a long-distance cellphone name in earlier a long time, one needed to hold his or her phrases to a minimal to be able to keep away from an costly invoice. The generosity of a number of Christian secretaries seems to have enabled Paul each to deal with a variety of points at size in his writings and to jot down continuously.


The advantages of collaborating with a secretary have been many. For one, they made the duty of writing extra handy and environment friendly. Writing within the historical world was not almost as straightforward as typing out one’s ideas on a pc and sending them off with the press of a button. Even when one had the flexibility to compose a letter, he would first want to accumulate the required writing supplies. Ink needed to be blended from varied components, and one would wish unused papyrus or some sort of other writing materials as properly. Secretaries usually maintained all the wanted provides to compose the letter, eradicating one step of the letter-writing course of for his or her shoppers. The handwriting of secretaries additionally tended to be extra engaging and tidier than the writing of most individuals.

Along with the comfort they provided, secretaries might help their shoppers with the composition of a writing. If an individual had restricted literary skills, he might merely share with the secretary the fundamental data he wished to convey. The secretary would then draft a letter that lined every of the requested objects. In conditions through which a secretary labored with a extra educated shopper or one who was writing for a public viewers, a better diploma of collaboration is likely to be anticipated. Nonetheless, even in conditions through which an creator dictated the content material of the letter to a secretary — which appears to have been the case when Paul composed his works — the secretary might provide steering all through the writing course of on the model and construction of the letter and the very best methods to introduce and handle sure topics.6 As soon as the unique draft was full, the creator would personally look at the doc and make any desired adjustments earlier than authenticating the ultimate work by including a brief handwritten greeting, signature, or another sort of private contact (see 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Philemon 19).7

Secretaries might additionally produce duplicates of the completed work for his or her shoppers. For the New Testomony authors, duplicate letters would have usually been extremely desired and even thought-about crucial. We should always not assume, for instance, that Paul despatched off his solely copy of Romans to believers in Rome with out first making certain that he had at the very least one copy in his personal possession. After the effort and time that went into the manufacturing of his letters, it’s extremely unlikely that he merely took an opportunity {that a} letter would arrive safely and be preserved. Due to this, Paul’s secretaries most likely produced copies of his letters all through his missionary profession. As I’ve urged elsewhere, the unique assortment of Paul’s letters seemingly derived from the duplicate copies in his possession or the possession of his companions.8 This would appear way more believable than the idea that the gathering emerged from an trade of writings between church buildings or from the acquisition of letters by a number of people who traveled all through the Roman world seeking Paul’s writings.

Letter Carriers

We’d additionally contemplate how the canonical letters made their technique to the meant readers as soon as they have been composed. With no postal service accessible to most people, what technique did writers corresponding to Paul use to ship their writings? As soon as once more, we discover that he relied on the help of his companions. All through his letters are hints that sure companions have been charged with the duty of delivering his writings.9 This record would come with Phoebe (Romans 16:1–2), who appears to have been charged with delivering the letter to the Romans; Titus, who seems to have delivered 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:16–24); Epaphroditus, who seemingly returned to Philippi with the letter from Paul (Philippians 2:25–30); and Tychicus, who seems to have delivered Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21–22), Colossians (Colossians 4:7–9), Philemon (Philemon 12),10 2 Timothy (2 Timothy 4:12), and probably others.11

Letter carriers have been usually given extra obligations than merely delivering the letter to the meant recipients. Along with this main job, letter carriers have been recognized to ship supplies or provides and to offer the readers with supplementary data and readability about issues mentioned within the writing. Within the case of Paul’s writings, we would think about letter carriers corresponding to Tychicus expounding on sure factors or providing readability about varied issues addressed by Paul. On sure events, the letter provider could have additionally learn the letter to the assembled gathering of the believers, although this additionally might have been executed by the native elders or different believers locally. As soon as their job was full, letter carriers usually returned to the creator with a response letter from the recipients and a private report on how the letter was acquired. This replace would permit Paul to stay knowledgeable about latest developments locally and to discern which topics could have to be addressed sooner or later.

Enduring Epistles

That Paul and others had a large community of mates and associates who labored alongside them is well-known.12 What is commonly missed, nonetheless, is that many of those companions assisted the apostles in a method or one other with their writing ministry. As we’ve noticed, the composition of the canonical letters concerned a number of steps and collaboration between the creator and various others. After receiving stories in regards to the circumstances dealing with his readers, writers corresponding to Paul sometimes consulted with their companions and a secretary who in lots of instances could have been a fellow believer graciously volunteering his time and experience. As soon as a letter was accomplished and copies of the textual content had been produced, a number of letter carriers would have been entrusted to ship the work to the meant recipients. Typically, the letter provider would return with a report in regards to the reception of the letter. On some events, these stories could have prompted additional correspondence from the creator or led him to rearrange a future go to.

Whereas the circumstances that led to the composition of every of the New Testomony writings have been distinctive and aren’t totally recognized to us, we will be grateful that sure developments prompted the New Testomony writers to compose works that proceed to instruct and encourage believers right this moment. In contrast to their oral educating, a lot of the apostles’ written instruction has been preserved and has benefited the church for almost two millennia. As we learn and examine the canonical letters right this moment, we’re thus in a position to be part of the primary era of believers in Jerusalem who, amongst different issues, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ educating” (Acts 2:42).

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