The Epistles of Paul.
1. The apostolic epistles are a natural sequence of the office and work committed by the Saviour to the apostles. They were the primitive preachers of the gospel, and, under Christ, the founders of the Christian church. From the necessity of the case they had a general supervision of all the local churches, and their authority in them was supreme in matters of both faith and practice. It was to be expected, therefore, that they should teach by writing, as well as by oral instruction. It does not appear, however, that epistolary correspondence entered originally into their plan of labor. Their great Master taught by word of mouth only, and they followed his example. "We," said the twelve, "will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." Acts 6:4. It was only when circumstances made it necessary, that some of them took up the pen to write to the churches. Passing by for the present the disputed question of the time when the epistle of James was written, and assuming that the conversion of Paul took place about A.D.36, we have an interval of at least sixteen years between this event and the date of his earliest epistles, those to the Thessalonians, written about A.D.53. The apostles did not regard themselves as letter-writers, but as preachers of the word. They took up the pen only when some special occasion made it necessary. The apostolic epistles are incidental; and for this very reason they are eminently life-like and practical. In respect to themes, and the manner of handling them, they present a rich variety. All the great questions of faith and practice that have agitated the Christian church since the apostolic age come up for discussion in these letters, not indeed, in their ever-varying outward forms, but in their great underlying principles. Thus the providence of God has provided in them a rich storehouse of truths for the instruction and edification of believers to the end of time.

2. Of the twenty-one epistles contained in the New Testament fourteen belong to Paul (if we include the anonymous letter to the Hebrews), all written in the prosecution of his great work as the apostle to the Gentiles. The Saviour's personal ministry was restricted to the Jews, and so was that of the twelve apostles and the seventy disciples whom he sent forth before his crucifixion. Matt.10:5, 6; 15:24; Luke 10:1. But his last command was: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matt.28:19. In carrying into execution this command, which involved such an immense change in the outward form of God's visible earthly kingdom, it was necessary --

(1) That the apostles should insist very earnestly and fully on the great fundamental doctrine of the gospel, that men have justification and eternal life, not through the law of Moses, or any other possible system of works, but through faith in Jesus Christ; a doctrine which cuts up Pharisaism by the roots.

(2) That, since faith in Christ is the common ground of justification for Jews and Gentiles, both were to be admitted upon equal terms to all the rights and privileges of the Christian church; the ancient prerogative of the Jews above the Gentiles being done away in Christ.

(3) Still further, that since the Gentiles had justification and salvation not through the law of Moses, but through faith alone, the Mosaic law was not to be imposed upon them. This was virtually announcing its abolition, its types and shadows having been fulfilled in Christ.

(4) That this removal of "the middle wall of partition" between the Jews and Gentiles was in accordance with Moses and the prophets -- not a change of God's original plan, but only the full accomplishment of it. Acts 15:15-18; Rom.3:21, 31; 4:6-25; Gal.3:6-9.

We have seen how this great work was begun by the gift of the Holy Spirit, in connection with the preaching of the gospel, first to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-17), and afterwards to the Gentiles (Acts 10; 11:20-26, etc.); and how it was completed, so far as concerns the principles involved in it, by the solemn decree of the apostles and the elders (Acts 15:1-29).

3. But for the realization of these principles in the actual preaching of the gospel to the Gentile nations, and the establishment of Christian churches among them which should embrace on equal terms Jews and Gentiles, a man of very peculiar qualifications was raised up in the providence of God. Saul of Tarsus was a Jew, brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, thoroughly instructed in the law and the prophets, and able therefore to speak with authority concerning the Old Testament to both Jews and Gentiles. His indomitable energy and fiery zeal, united with rare practical wisdom, had made him the foremost man in persecuting the Christians. When the proper time had come Jesus met him on the road to Damascus with converting power, and all his superior education and endowments were thenceforth consecrated to the work of preaching the faith which once he destroyed, especially to the Gentile world. But in this matter he felt and acted as a Jew. He did not separate himself abruptly from his countrymen. Cherishing towards them the tenderest affection, they were everywhere the first objects of his Christian effort. Into whatever city he went, he first sought the Jewish synagogue, and there he "reasoned with them out of the Scriptures," Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:2, 10; 18:4; 19:8. It was only when they persisted in opposing and blaspheming, that he desisted from further effort among them and turned to the Gentiles. Acts 13:45-47; 18:6; 19:9. Wherever he went he encountered the bitterest persecution on the part of his own countrymen, because of the prominence which he gave to the great evangelical principles above considered -- that men have justification not wholly or in part through the Mosaic law, but simply through faith in Christ, and that in him the distinction between Jews and Gentiles is abolished. Even the believing Jews found it hard to apprehend these truths in their fullness. In the narrowness of their Jewish prejudices they were anxious to impose on the Gentile converts the yoke of the Mosaic law. This, Paul steadfastly resisted, and it is to his defence of Gentile liberty that we owe, in great measure, those masterly discussions on the ground of justification, and the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, which are so prominent in his epistles. Yet with his uncompromising firmness of principle he united remarkable flexibility in regard to the means of success. To those who would impose circumcision on the Gentiles he "gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour." Gal.2:5. But where no great principle was concerned, he was willing to circumcise Timothy, out of regard to the feelings of the Jews; thus becoming, in his own words, "all things to all men." 1 Cor.9:22.

4. The peculiar character of the apostle's style is obvious to every reader. It is in an eminent degree argumentative. He "reasoned with them," says Luke, "out of the Scriptures." These words describe accurately the character of both his epistles and his addresses to the Jews as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. In addressing a Gentile audience at Athens, he still "reasoned with them;" but it was now from the inscription on one of their altars, from certain of their own poets, and from the manifestations in nature of God's power and Godhead. His reasoning takes occasionally the form of an argument within an argument. He pauses by the way to expand some thought, and does not return again to complete in grammatical form the sentence which he had begun; so that his style sometimes becomes complex and obscure. The versatility of the apostle's mind, which made him equally at home in discussing subjects the most varied, appears in his style also. It naturally takes the complexion of his themes. To understand this one has only to compare the epistle to the Romans with those to the Corinthians; the epistle to the Galatians with that to the Ephesians; and all these with the epistles to the Philippians and Thessalonians. His style may be compared to a clear window, which shows with fidelity the ever varying forms and scenes that pass before it.

5. The commentaries that have been written on the epistles of Paul would themselves constitute a large library. Our own century has been very fruitful in them, and some of them are accessible to every reader. For this reason our notice of the separate epistles may well be brief. Our aim will be to give the occasion of each, its chronological order in the series, its connection with the apostle's missionary labors, its scope, and the office which it accomplishes in the plan of revelation.

In connection with Paul's epistles the reader should carefully study the history of his life and labors, as given in the Acts of the Apostles. From Acts 9:23-26 compared with Gal.1:16-18, we learn that the first three years after Paul's conversion were spent at Damascus and in Arabia. Then he went up to Jerusalem, but after a short sojourn there was driven away by the persecution of the Jews, and retired to his native city, Tarsus in Cilicia. Acts 9:29, 30. After an interval of some time, which he spent "in the regions of Syria and Cilicia" (Gal.1:21), "Barnabas departed to Tarsus, for to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch." Acts 11:25, 26. This is supposed to have been about A.D.43, seven or eight years after his conversion.

Here begins his recorded public ministry in Antioch and from Antioch as a centre. See above, Chap.29, No.38. It embraces three great missionary tours (Acts 13:1, etc.; 15:36, etc.; 18:23, etc.), and four visits to Jerusalem besides that already noticed. Acts 11:27-30 compared with 12:25; 15:2; 18:22; 21:15. The last of these ended in his captivity and imprisonment, first at Cesarea and afterwards at Rome, with an intervening perilous voyage and shipwreck. Acts chap.21-28. See the incidents of Paul's life chronologically arranged in Davidson's Introduct. to New Test., vol.2, pp.110-112, with the annexed table; in Horne's Introduct., vol.4, pp.490-495; in Conybeare and Howson, vol.2, Appendix 2; and in the commentaries of Hackett, Alford, Wordsworth, etc.

6. As the epistles of Paul stand in the New Testament, they are not arranged in chronological order. The principle of arrangement seems to have been, first, those to churches, then, those to individuals; the further order being that of relative size, with this modification; that two epistles addressed to the same church should stand together, and that the last of them, which is always the shorter, should determine their place in the series. Where the epistles are about equal in size, it seems to have been the design to arrange them chronologically. The catholic epistles are arranged upon the same plan. The epistle to the Hebrews, as being anonymous, now stands after those which bear the name of Paul. But in many Greek manuscripts it is placed after 2 Thessalonians, consequently between the epistles addressed to churches and those to individuals.

The student of these epistles should carefully note the chronological order, because, as Wordsworth remarks (Preface to Commentary on the Epistles), the mutual illustration which the Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic epistles receive from each other "is much impaired if the apostolic epistles are not studied in connection with and in the order of the apostolic history." The following is the chronological order of the epistles, as far as it can be ascertained, though (as will hereafter appear) some uncertainty exists in respect to several of them:

1 Thessalonians . . . about A.D.53
2 Thessalonians . . . about A.D.53
Galatians . . . . . . about A.D.56 or 57
1 Corinthians . . . . about A.D.57
2 Corinthians . . . . about A.D.57
Romans . . . . . . . about A.D.58
Ephesians . . . . . . about A.D.62
Colossians . . . . . about A.D.62
Philemon . . . . . . about A.D.62
Philippians . . . . . about A.D.63
Hebrews . . . . . . . uncertain.
1 Timothy . . . . . . about A.D.65
Titus . . . . . . . . about A.D.65
2 Timothy . . . . . . about A.D.66

Arranged according to the order of time the thirteen epistles which bear the name of Paul naturally fall into four groups: (1) the two epistles to the Thessalonians, written during the apostle's second missionary journey recorded Acts 15:36-18:22; (2) the epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, written during his third missionary journey, Acts 18:23-21:15; (3) the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians, written during Paul's imprisonment in Rome, Acts 28:16-31 (some suppose the first three to have been written during his imprisonment at Cesarea, Acts 23:35-26:32); (4) the pastoral epistles, the first and third probably written after his recorded imprisonment in Rome, and the second during a second imprisonment after the publication of the Acts of the Apostles, and which ended in his martyrdom A.D.67 or 68.

The epistles of Paul will now be considered in the usual order, except that the three to the Ephesians, Colossians. and Philemon, which are contemporaneous, will be taken together.


7. The date of the epistle to the Romans, as well as the place where it was written, can be gathered with much certainty from the epistle itself, taken in connection with other notices respecting Paul found in the Acts of the Apostles. He was about to bear alms to his brethren in Judea from Macedonia and Achaia. Chap.15:25, 26. He had previously exhorted the church of Corinth in Achaia to make this very collection, which he was to receive of them when he came to them through Macedonia.1 Cor.16:1-6. That he was also to bring with him a collection from the Macedonian churches is manifest from 2 Cor.8:1-4; 9:1-4. He wrote, moreover, from Corinth; for among the greetings at the close of the epistle is one from "Gaius mine host" (chap.16:23), a Corinthian whom he had baptized (1 Cor.1:14); he commends to them Phebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea, the eastern port of Corinth, chap.16:1; and he speaks of "the city" where he is as well known (chap.16:23), which can be no other than Corinth. Now by comparing Acts 19:21; 20:1-3; 24:17, we find that he was then on his way to Jerusalem through Macedonia and Greece, for the last time recorded in the New Testament. The epistle to the Romans, then, was written from Corinth during the apostle's third missionary tour and second abode in that city, about A.D.58. It is the sixth of his epistles in the order of time, and stands in near connection with those to the Galatians and Corinthians, which were apparently written during the previous year.

8. Concerning the founding of the church at Rome we have no information. At the date of this epistle Paul had not visited it. Chaps.1:10-15; 15:23, 24. Of its composition, however, we have more certain knowledge. Founded in the metropolis of the Roman empire, where, as we know from many notices of ancient writers, many Jews resided, it must have been of a mixed character, embracing both Jews and Gentiles; with this agree the contents of the present epistle. That the Gentile element largely predominated in the church at Rome appears from the general tenor of the epistle. Chaps.1:13; 11:13-25, 30, 31; 15:16. That it had also a Jewish element is plain from the whole of chap 2, and the precepts in chap.14.

9. The occasion of writing seems to have been of a general character. The apostle had often purposed to visit Rome, but had been as often hindered. Chap.1:13. To compensate in part for this failure, he wrote the present epistle, having, as it appears, an opportunity to send it by Phebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea. Chap.16:1. The apostle's design, like the occasion of his writing, was general. It was natural that, in addressing a church which he had long desired to visit, he should lay himself out to unfold the gospel of Christ in its deep foundation principles, as a plan of salvation provided for the whole world, and designed to unite Jews and Gentiles in one harmonious body, on the common platform of faith in Christ. He first shows that the Gentiles are under the dominion of sin (chap.1:18-32), and the Jews also (chap.2), so that both alike are shut up to salvation by grace. Chap.3. He connects the gospel plan of salvation immediately with the Old Testament by showing that Abraham, the father of the Israelitish people, was justified by faith, not by the works of the law or any outward rite; so that he is the father of all who walk in the steps of his faith, whether Jews or Gentiles. Chap.4. He then sets forth the love of God in Christ, who is the second Adam, sent to restore the race from the ruin into which it was brought by the sin of the first Adam (chap.5); and shows that to fallen sinful men the law cannot give deliverance from either its condemnatory sentence or the reigning power of sin, so that its only effect is to work wrath, while the righteousness which God gives through faith in Christ sets men free from both the curse of the law and the inward power of sin, thus bringing them into a blessed state of justification, sanctification, and holy communion with God here, with the hope of eternal glory hereafter. Chaps.6-8. Since the doctrine of the admission of the Gentiles to equal privileges with the Jews, and the rejection of the unbelieving part of the Jewish nation, was exceedingly offensive to his countrymen, the apostle devotes three entire chapters to the discussion of this momentous theme. Chaps.9-11. He then proceeds to draw from the whole subject, as he has unfolded it, such practical exhortations in respect to daily life and conduct as were adapted to the particular wants of the Roman Christians -- entire consecration of soul and body to God in each believer's particular sphere (chap.12); obedience to magistrates (chap.13:1-7); love and purity (chap.13:8-14); mutual respect and forbearance (chaps.14:1-15:7). He then returns to the great theme with which he began, that Christ is the common Saviour of Jews and Gentiles, in connection with which he refers to his office and labors as "the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles" (chap.15:8-21), and closes with miscellaneous notices and salutations (chaps.15:22-16:27).

10. From the above brief survey the special office of the epistle to the Romans is manifest. In no book of the New Testament is the great doctrine of justification by faith so fully unfolded. The apostle sets it in vivid contrast with the Pharisaical idea of justification by the Mosaic law, and, by parity of reason, of justification by every other system of legalism; showing that it is only by grace through Christ that men can be delivered from either the guilt of sin or its reigning power in the soul, while the effect of the law is only to excite and irritate men's corrupt passions without the power to subdue them. The place, therefore, which this epistle holds in the understandings and affections of believers must be a good measure of their progress in the Christian life.


11. THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS was written from Ephesus, not far from the time of Pentecost (chap.16:8); not from Philippi, according to the subscription appended to it. It was during Paul's second and last visit to that city, as we learn from his directions concerning a collection for the saints at Jerusalem, and his promise to come to the Corinthians through Macedonia (chap.16:1-5); for when Paul left Ephesus after his second sojourn there he went by Macedonia and Achaia (of which province Corinth was the capital) to Jerusalem to bear alms. Acts 19:21; 20:1-3; 24:17. Paul's second stay in Ephesus, during which time some think that he made a short visit to Corinth not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, which would be the second in order, that promised in this and the second epistle being the third (2 Cor.12:14; 13:1), extended over the space of about three years. Acts 19:1-10; 20:31. From his words (chap.16:3-8), we gather that the epistle was written not long before the close of this period. Chronologists generally place it about A.D.57.

12. The occasion of his writing was more specific than when he penned his epistle to the Romans. Corinth, the renowned capital of the Roman province Achaia, situated on the isthmus that connects the southern peninsula of Greece -- the ancient Peleponnesus and the modern Morea, and enjoying the advantage of two ports was alike distinguished for its wealth and progress in the arts, and for its luxury and dissoluteness of morals. Here the apostle had labored a year and six months, and gathered a flourishing church embracing some Jews, but consisting mostly of Gentiles. Acts 18:1-11; 1 Cor.12:2. These Gentile converts, having just emerged from the darkness and corruption of heathenism (chap.6:9-11), and living in the midst of a dissolute community (chap.5:9, 10), did not wholly escape the contamination of heathenish associations and heathenish vices. Chaps.5, 6, 8, 10. Taking a low and worldly view of the Christian church and the spiritual endowments of its several members, they were led into party strifes and rivalries. Chaps.1:11-13; 3:3-7. Certain vain-glorious teachers, moreover, had come in among them with a great show of worldly wisdom, who disparaged Paul's apostolical standing, taught the people to despise the simplicity of his teachings, and sought to supplant him in the confidence and affections of the Corinthian church. Chaps.4, 9; 2 Cor.10-13. In addition to this, certain disorders and abuses had crept into their public assemblies (chaps.11, 12, 14), and some among them denied the doctrine of the resurrection. Chap.15. According to the most probable interpretation of chap.5:9, the apostle had already written them a letter on some of these points which has not come down to us, and the Corinthians themselves had written to the apostle, asking his advice on some points of a practical character, particularly in respect to the marriage relation in their present state of trial. Chap.7:1. The occasion, then, of writing this epistle, which gives also its scope and office, was to correct the above named errors and abuses, of which he had received accurate information, and also to answer the inquiries of the Corinthians in their letter. In this work the apostle employs now sharp rebuke, now tender expostulation, and now earnest and impassioned argument. The party strifes among the Corinthians he meets by showing that Christ himself is the only head of the church, that all gifts are from him, and are to be used to his glory in the edification of believers. Chaps.1:13, 14, 30, 31; 3:5-23. The vain-glorious boasting of their leaders he exposes by showing the emptiness and impotence of their pretended wisdom in comparison with the doctrine of Christ crucified, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God for the salvation of all that believe, without regard to the distinctions of worldly rank. Chaps.1:18-2:16; 3:18-20. The abuses and disorders that had crept into the church he rebukes with apostolical severity; and in correcting them, as well as in answering the questions of the Corinthians, he makes an application of the general principles of the gospel to the several cases before him which is full of practical wisdom -- the incestuous person (chap.5:8), companionship with the vicious (chap.5:9-13), litigation among brethren (chap.6:1-8), fleshly indulgence (chap.6:9-20), the inquiries of the Christians in respect to marriage (chap.7), meats offered to idols and sundry questions connected with them (chaps.8, 10), disorders in the public assemblies (chap.11), spiritual gifts with a beautiful eulogy on love (chaps.12-14), the doctrine of the resurrection (chap.15). He also defends his apostolical character and standing against his opposers, though by no means so earnestly and fully as in the following epistle. Chaps.4, 9. Thus it comes to pass that the present epistle contains a remarkable variety of topics, and gives us a fuller and clearer insight into the practical working of Christianity in the primitive apostolic churches than that furnished by any other of Paul's epistles, or, indeed, any other book of the New Testament. The great principles, moreover, which he lays down in meeting the particular wants of the Corinthian church remain valid for all time; shedding from age to age a clear and steady light, by which every tempest-tossed church may, God helping it by his grace, steer its way into the haven of peace and prosperity.

13. The reader cannot fail to notice the remarkable contrast between the tone of this epistle and that to the Galatians, which belongs in the order of time to the same group. See above, No.6. The errors of the Corinthians were not fundamental, like those of the Galatians. They built upon the true foundation, Jesus Christ; but marred the building by the introduction of base materials -- the "wood, hay, stubble" of human wisdom, instead of the "gold, silver, precious stones" of the truth as Paul had taught it. The false teachers among the Galatians, on the contrary, sought to subvert the very foundations of Christianity by bringing in a system of legal justification. In writing to the Galatians, therefore, Paul contends, with apostolic severity, for the very substance of the gospel, but in addressing the Corinthians, he seeks only to purify the gospel from the admixture of human additions.

14. THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS was written not many months after the first, from Macedonia, where the apostle was occupied in completing a collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, with the purpose of afterwards proceeding to Corinth that he might receive the contribution of the Corinthian church also. Chaps.8:1-4; 9:1-5. Whether he wrote from Philippi, according to the subscription of the epistle, or from some other place in Macedonia, cannot be determined.

15. The occasion of writing was manifestly the report which he had received from Titus (and as is generally inferred from 1 Cor.4:17; 16:10, from Timothy also). He had sent Titus to Corinth with the expectation that he would bring tidings thence to Troas, where he hoped to find him on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia. But in this he was disappointed. He therefore hastened from Troas to Macedonia, where he met Titus and learned from him the effect of his first epistle. Chaps.2:12, 13; 7:6; 12:18. So far as the main body of the Corinthian Christians was concerned, this was highly favorable, and for it the apostle devoutly thanks God (chap.7:6, 7); commends their prompt obedience (chap.7:11); directs them to restore the excommunicated person (chap.2:5-10); and discusses very fully the matter of the collection for the poor Christians at Jerusalem (chaps.8, 9). But the very success of his first epistle with the better part of the church had embittered his enemies, and made them more determined in their opposition to him. They accused him of levity in changing his original plan of visiting the Corinthian church on his way to Macedonia (chap.1:15-17); of uttering threats which he would not dare to execute when present among them (chap.10:9-11); of making a gain of them by indirect means (chap.12:16-18); and sought in various ways to disparage his apostolical character and standing. This led him to dwell with great earnestness on the fullness of his apostolic credentials, the purity of his apostolic life, and the abundance of his labors and sufferings in behalf of Christ's cause, always with reference more or less direct to his enemies. With these personal notices of himself are interwoven exalted views of the dignity of the ministerial office, and the true spirit and manner in which its weighty duties are to be performed. See chaps.2:14-7:16; chaps.10-13. The prominence which the apostle is thus forced to give to his own person and labor constitutes the most remarkable feature of the present epistle. To the same cause are due the peculiarities of its diction, and its rapid transitions from one theme and tone to another. "Consolation and rebuke, gentleness and severity, earnestness and irony, succeed one another at very short intervals and without notice." Alford, Introduction to this Epistle. All this came about by the wisdom of God, who placed his servant in such circumstances that fidelity to the cause of truth compelled him unwillingly to set forth in himself the character of a true minister of the gospel in bright contrast with that of those vain-glorious and selfish men, who under a show of great worldly wisdom, seek to create parties in the church of Christ for their own private honor and emolument. The particular occasion which called forth this epistle soon passed away; but the epistle itself remains a rich treasure for all believers, especially for all Christian teachers.


16. Galatia is the Greek word answering to the Roman Gallia, that is, Gaul. It was one of the central provinces of Asia Minor, and received its name from the circumstance of its being inhabited by a people of Gallic origin who came by the way of Byzantium and the Hellespont in the third century before Christ. Two visits of the apostle to Galatia are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles; the first, during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6); and the second, at the beginning of his third journey (Acts 18:23). After which of these visits the present epistle was written is a question that has been much discussed, and answered in different ways. The most natural interpretation, however, of chapter 4:13-16 leads to the conclusion that it was after his second visit. The course of the events seems to have been as follows: He was suffering from an infirmity of the flesh when he preached the gospel to the Galatians "at the first," that is, upon the first visit (verse 13). Then they received him "as an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ," and were filled with holy joy through simple faith in Christ's name (verses 14, 15). Upon his second visit he found it necessary to warn them in very plain terms against the seductions of false teachers, who were seeking to draw them away from the simplicity of the gospel to faith in a system of works. But after his departure these false teachers had great success; and the result was that the affections of the Galatians were alienated from Paul, who was their spiritual father. In view of this fact he asks (as we may render v.16, after Ellicott, in perfect accordance with the idiom of the Greek): "So then, am I become your enemy, by speaking to you the truth?" that is because in my recent visit I told you the truth. According to this view the epistle belongs to the second group, and was written about A.D.56 or 57. Farther than this we cannot go in determining the time. The place is uncertain. It may have been Ephesus, or Corinth, which cities Paul visited in his third and last missionary journey, but it cannot have been Rome, as the subscription erroneously gives it.

The subscriptions are of no authority. That to the present epistle probably had its ground mainly in chapter 6:17, where the writer was erroneously supposed to allude to the bodily sufferings that he endured in connection with his last recorded imprisonment.

17. The occasion of this epistle, which gives also its design, was very specific. The Galatian churches had begun well (chap.5:7); but soon after Paul's departure Judaizing teachers had drawn them away to the very form of error noticed in the Acts of the Apostles (chap.15:1); "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses ye cannot be saved." They sought to impose on all the Gentile converts circumcision as essential to salvation. Thus they placed justification on a legal ground, and made faith in Christ a subordinate matter. This error was fundamental. Paul therefore attacks it with unsparing severity, with which, however, he mingles a wonderful tenderness of spirit. His argument is for substance the same as that in the epistle to the Romans, only that it takes from necessity a more controversial form, and is carried out with more warmth and vehemence of expression. It is a divine model of the way in which fundamental error should be dealt with.

18. The epistle naturally falls into three divisions. The first is mainly historic. Chaps.1, 2. The false teachers had disparaged Paul's apostolical standing, on the ground, apparently, that he was not one of the original twelve, and had not been called immediately by Christ to the apostleship, but had received his gospel from men. It would seem also that they labored to make it appear that Paul's doctrine respecting circumcision and the Mosaic law was contrary to that of Peter and the other apostles of the circumcision. Paul accordingly devotes these two introductory chapters to a vindication of his full apostolic standing. He shows that his apostleship is "not of man neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father" (chap.1:1); that the gospel which he preaches he neither received of man, nor was taught by man but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (verses 11, 12); that, accordingly, upon his call to the apostleship, he went not up to Jerusalem to receive instruction from those who were apostles before him, but into Arabia, whence he returned to Damascus (verses 15-17); that after three years he made a brief visit of fifteen days to Peter, where he also saw James, but had no personal acquaintance with the churches in Judea (verses 20-24); that fourteen years afterwards he went up to Jerusalem by revelation, not to be instructed by the apostles there, but to confer with them respecting "the gospel of the uncircumcision" which was committed to him, and that he obtained the full recognition of "James, Cephas, and John, who were reckoned as pillars" (chap.2:1-10); and that afterwards, when Peter was come to Antioch he withstood him to the face on this very question of circumcision, because, through fear of his Jewish brethren, he had dissembled and drawn others into dissimulation, adding also the substance of the rebuke administered by him to Peter, which contains an argument (drawn in part from Peter's own practice) against compelling the Gentiles to live as do the Jews (verses 11-21).

Having thus vindicated his apostolic authority against the false teachers in Galatia, he proceeds, in the second part of the epistle, to unfold the great argument for justification by faith in Christ. The Galatians have received the Holy Spirit, with the accompanying miraculous gifts, not by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ (chap.3:1-5); Abraham was justified by faith, as an example for all future ages (verses 6-9,18); the law cannot bring justification to sinners, but only condemnation (verses 10-12); from this condemnation Christ delivers us, and makes us through faith the children of Abraham, and heirs to all the promises which God made to him (verses 13, 14); the Abrahamic covenant, conditioned on faith alone, is older than the Mosaic law and cannot be disannulled by it (verses 15-17); the true office of the law was to prepare men for the coming of Christ, in whom all distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished (verses 19-29); before Christ the people of God were like a child that has not yet received the inheritance, but is kept under tutors and governors, but through Christ they are like the same child arrived at full age, and put in possession of the inheritance (chap.4:1-7). The apostle adds (chaps.4:8-5:12) various arguments and illustrations, with pointed allusions to the false teachers who were subverting the simplicity of their faith in Christ; and he solemnly warns the Galatian Christians that by receiving circumcision they bind themselves to do the whole law -- the whole law as the ground of their justification. They have left Christ, and thus fallen away from grace -- forsaken a system of grace for one of works, so that "Christ is become of no effect" to them. Chap.5:3, 4.

The third part (chaps.5:13-6:18) is of a practical character. The apostle affectionately exhorts the Galatians to use their Christian liberty in a worthy manner, mortifying fleshly lusts, restoring fallen brethren in meekness, bearing one another's burdens, and being diligent in every good work. In bringing the epistle to a close he contrasts the vain-glory and hypocrisy of these Judaizing false teachers with his steadfast purpose to glory only in the cross of Christ, in whom "neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."


19. These three epistles are contemporaneous, in the sense that they were written on the same general occasion, and forwarded at the same time, though some days may have intervened between the composition of the first and the last of them. They were all written when Paul was a prisoner (Eph.3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Col.4:10; Philemon 1, 9, 10, 23), and all sent virtually by Tychicus; for Onesimus, a servant whom Paul sent back to his master, Philemon of Colosse, with a commendatory letter, went in company with Tychicus. Eph.6:21, 22; Col.4:7-9. The epistle to the Ephesians contains no salutations; but those of the other two, are, with a single exception, sent from the same persons -- Aristarchus, Marcus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas. If any further argument for their contemporaneousness were needed, it could be found in the remarkable agreement between the contents of the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, extending not only to the thoughts but to the phraseology also.

20. It is agreed that these three epistles were written during the apostle's imprisonment in either Cesarea or Rome; but from which of these two places is a question on which biblical scholars differ, and which cannot be answered with certainty, though the common opinion has been that the apostle wrote from Rome. It is not necessary to review the arguments advanced on the two sides. The reader who wishes to investigate the matter will find them in commentaries and bible dictionaries.

21. Another question is: In what order were the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians written? Here we have only indirect indications, and these not decisive. It is manifest, however, from a comparison of the two epistles, that the apostle had a more specific occasion for writing to the Colossians than to the Ephesians. It is natural, therefore, to suppose that he first penned his letter to the former church, and very soon afterwards, while his heart was yet warm with the great theme of that letter -- the personal glory and dignity of Christ, and the union through him of both Jews and Gentiles in one holy family -- he wrote to the Ephesians among whom he had so long labored, going over the same general course of thought, but with more fulness and in a less argumentative tone. However this may be, it is certain that the most convenient order of studying these two closely related epistles is to begin with that to the Colossians and thence proceed to the other. We propose to consider them in this order.

22. EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS. Colosse was a city lying in the southwestern part of Phrygia, in Asia Minor, in the neighborhood of Laodicea and Hierapolis. Chap.4:13, 16. Respecting the founding of the church there we have no information. According to the most natural interpretation of chap.2:1, Paul had not visited Colosse in person when he wrote the present epistle. The occasion of his writing seems to have been information received by him that false teachers were troubling the Colossian church. That these men were Jews is plain from chap.2:16, 20, 21; where the reference is to Jewish ordinances. But their doctrine was not simple Phariseeism, like that of the false teachers among the Galatians. They did not seek directly to substitute circumcision and the Mosaic law for faith in Christ, as the ground of justification. They seem rather to have been Christian Jews of an ascetic turn of mind, and imbued with the semi-oriental philosophy of that day, which contained in itself the seeds of the later Gnostic systems. Having no clear apprehension of the glory of Christ's person and the fulness of the salvation which his gospel offers to men, they sought to supplement the Christian system by their ascetic practices and their speculations concerning the orders of angels, whom they seem to have regarded as mediators between God and men. To all this human philosophy the apostle opposes directly the divine dignity and glory of Christ's person, and the completeness of the redemption which he has provided for men.

The Jewish character of these false teachers appears in their insisting on meats and drinks, holy-days, new moons, and Sabbaths (chap.2:16, 20, 21); their ascetic character, in their doctrine concerning the mortification of the body (chap.2:23); their speculations concerning angels, in the fact that they are described as "delighting in humility and the worship of angels" (chap.2:18, 23). The apostle apparently refers to a false humility which, under the pretence that God is too great to be approached except through the mediation of angels, made them instead of Christ the way of access to him, thus disparaging the Redeemer's person and office.

23. In respect to plan, the epistle naturally falls into two parts of about equal length. The first is argumentative. Chaps.1, 2. After an introduction, in which the apostle thanks God that the Colossians have been made partakers of the gospel, commends them for the fruitfulness of their faith, and assures them of his incessant prayers in their behalf (chap.1:1-12), and passes to his great theme, which is to set forth the divine dignity and glory of Christ's person. He is the image of the invisible God, existing before all things, and the creator and upholder of all things, those angelic orders included whom the false teachers regarded as objects of worship (verses 15-17). He is also the head of the church, and as such unites under himself all holy beings in heaven and earth in one happy family (verses 18-22). In him all fulness dwells, and all believers are complete in him; receiving through him a spiritual circumcision which brings to them holiness of heart, forgiveness of sins, and life from the dead (verses 11-13). Christ has abolished by his death on the cross "the handwriting of ordinances" -- the Mosaic ordinances under the figure of a bond which was before of binding force, but which he has annulled -- so that the former ground of separation between Jews and Gentiles is done away (2:14). By the same death on the cross he has "spoiled principalities and powers" -- the powers of darkness, of which Satan is the head -- openly triumphing over them (verse 15). The Colossians, then, have all that they need in Christ, and the apostle affectionately warns them against being spoiled through the philosophy of these false teachers, which is a compound of ignorance, self-conceit, and will-worship, void alike of reality and power.

The second part is practical. Chaps.3, 4. The duties on which the apostle insists come mainly under two general heads. The first is that of a heavenly temper of mind growing out of their resurrection with Christ who sits at the right hand of God, and who shall appear again to receive his disciples to himself, that they also may appear with him in glory. In view of this animating hope he exhorts the Colossians to put away all the sins belonging to their former state of heathenism. Chap.3:1-8. The second is that of mutual love and harmony arising from their union with each other in Christ, whereby they have been made one holy body, in which outward distinctions are nothing "but Christ is all and in all." On this ground they are urged to cultivate all the graces of the Spirit, the chief of which is love, and faithfully to discharge, each one in his station, the mutual duty which they owe as husbands and wives, as parents and children, as masters and servants. Chaps.3:9-4:1. They are admonished, moreover, to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly for their mutual edification (chap.3:16); to be single-hearted in their aim to please Christ (verse 17); to be prayerful and vigilant (chap.4:2-4); and wise in their intercourse with unbelievers (verses 5, 6). The epistle closes with notices of a personal character intermingled with salutations (verses 7-18).

In chap.4:16 the apostle directs that this epistle be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that the Colossians likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. What was this epistle from Laodicea? (1) Some think it was a letter written by the church of Laodicea to Paul, and forwarded by him to the Colossians. (2) Others understand it of an epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans (perhaps forwarded along with the three epistles now under consideration) and which the Colossians were to obtain from Laodicea. This is the most probable supposition. On the attempt to identify this epistle with our canonical epistle to the Ephesians see below.

24. EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS. -- Ephesus, the metropolis of Proconsular Asia, which comprehended the western provinces of Asia Minor, lay on the coast of the AEgean sea between Smyrna on the north and Miletus on the south. In the apostolic age it was a flourishing city, and renowned for the temple of the heathen goddess Diana. Two visits of the apostle to Ephesus are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the latter of which was prolonged through most of three years. Acts 18:19-21; chaps.19; 20:31. The occasion of writing this epistle seems to have been of a very general nature. The apostle was sending a letter by Tychicus to the Colossians, and embraced the opportunity to write to the Ephesians also. In entire accordance with this supposition is the general character of the epistle. The apostle has no particular error to combat, as he had in the case of the Colossians. He proceeds, therefore, in a placid and contemplative frame of mind to unfold the great work of Christ's redemption; and then makes a practical application of it, as in the epistle to the Colossians, but with more fulness, and with some important additions.

It has seemed surprising to many that the apostle should have written in so general a strain to a church on which he had bestowed so much labor, and where he had so many personal friends; particularly that he should have omitted at the close all salutations. To account for this various hypotheses have been proposed. The words "in Ephesus" are omitted in the Sinai and Vatican manuscripts, and there is reason for believing that they were wanting in some other ancient manuscripts not now extant. See the quotations from Basil the Great, and other fathers in Alford, Ellicott, Meyer, and other critical commentators. On this ground some have supposed that the present epistle was intended to be encyclical -- an epistle for general circulation among the churches; others, that it is the Laodicean epistle referred to in Col.4:16. But in favor of the words "in Ephesus" there is an overwhelming weight of evidence. They are sustained by all the versions and all the manuscripts except the above. Besides, as every Greek scholar knows, if these words are omitted, it compels the omission from the original of the two preceding words which are found in every manuscript and version -- unless, indeed, we adopt the far-fetched hypothesis that the apostle furnished Tychicus with two or more copies of the epistle for different churches, leaving a blank space to be filled as occasion should require; and then it becomes impossible to explain how the reading "in Ephesus" should have been so universal in the manuscripts and versions. There is no occasion for any of this ingenuity. The omission of these words from single manuscripts is not wonderful. It finds a parallel, as Alford remarks, in the omission of the words in Rome (Rom.1:7) from one manuscript, whether from oversight or for the purpose of generalizing the reference of its contents. Nor can any valid objection be drawn from the general character of the epistle. That depended much on the occasion which called it forth, which we have seen to have been general, and the frame of mind in which the apostle wrote. As to the omission of salutations, we shall find upon examination that the measure of Paul's personal acquaintance with the churches was not that of his personal greetings. These abound most of all in the epistle to the Romans whom he had never visited. Rom.16. They are found also in the epistle to the Colossians to whom Paul was personally a stranger. Col.4:10-14. On the contrary they are wanting, except in a general form, in the epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians (in 2 Thessalonians wholly wanting as in this epistle), Titus, and the first to Timothy. The other objections are founded on misinterpretation, as when it is inferred from chap, 1:15 that the author had never seen those to whom he wrote; and from chap, 3:2 that they had no personal acquaintance with him. But in the former passage the apostle speaks simply of the good report which had come to him from the Ephesian church since he left it; and, in the latter, the words: "if ye have heard" imply no doubt (compare 1 Peter 2:3), and cannot be fairly adduced to prove that the writer was personally unknown to his readers.

25. This epistle, like that to the Colossians, naturally falls into two divisions of about equal size; the first argumentative, the second practical.

The argumentative part occupies the first two chapters. Full of the great theme with which the epistle to the Colossians is occupied -- the personal dignity and glory of Christ, the greatness of his salvation, and especially the union through him of all holy beings in heaven and earth in one family of God -- the apostle begins, immediately after the apostolic greeting, by pouring out his heart in thanksgiving to God for his rich mercy, which has made him and his beloved Ephesians partakers of Christ's redemption, the greatness and glory of which he describes in glowing terms, bringing in, as he proceeds, the thought with which his mind is filled, that it is God's purpose to "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth." Chap.1:10. He then adds a fervent prayer for the growth of the Ephesians in the knowledge of Christ, whom God has raised above all principality and power and made head over all things to his body the church. Returning in the second chapter to the theme with which he began, he contrasts with the former wretched condition of the Ephesians, when they had no hope and were without God in the world, their present blessed state, as fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of faith; God having through Christ broken down the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, and built them all into a holy temple upon one common foundation, of which Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone. In the third chapter he dwells upon the grace of God which had committed to him, in a special sense, the office of preaching among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and adds a rapturous prayer for the strengthening of the Ephesians through the Spirit in the inner man, for their establishment in faith and love, and their illumination in the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that they may "be filled with all the fulness of God." Then follows a doxology in which the apostle labors to find words wherewith to express his conception of the greatness of God's power and grace through Jesus Christ.

With the fourth chapter begins the practical part of the epistle. He begins with an exhortation to unity, the argument for which cannot be abridged: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Chap.4:4-6. He next speaks of the diversity of gifts among believers, all of which come from Christ, and have for their end the unity of the church in faith and knowledge, and thus her stability (verses 7-16). Then follow earnest admonitions to shun the vices of their former state of heathenism, and cultivate all the graces of the Spirit. The mutual relations of life are then taken up, as in the epistle to the Colossians. Here occurs that grand digression in which the love of Christ towards his church is compared with that of the husband towards his wife. Chap.5:23-32. The closing exhortation, in which the Christian is compared to a warrior wrestling not with flesh and blood but with the powers of darkness, and his heavenly panoply is described at length, is (with the exception of the brief figure, 1 Thess.5:8) peculiar to this epistle and is very striking.

26. EPISTLE TO PHILEMON. -- This short epistle is essentially of a private character. It was sent to Colosse by Onesimus at the same time with the epistle to the Colossians, of which Tychieus was the bearer. Col.4:7-9. The epistle itself plainly indicates its object. It is a plea for Onesimus, the servant of Philemon, who had left his master and apparently defrauded him (verse 18), but now returns to him a Christian. As a model of Christian delicacy and courtesy it has been the admiration of all ages.


27. The ancient name of Philippi was Crenides (Fountains); but Philip of Macedon fortified the place and called it after his own name. It lay along the bank of a river on a plain in the eastern border of Proconsular Macedonia, and was made a colony by Augustus in memory of his victory gained there over Brutus and Cassius. Compare Acts 16:12. Its port was Neapolis on the AEgean sea about twelve Roman miles to the southeast of it. Philippi was the first place in Europe where the gospel was preached by Paul, who had been summoned across the sea to Macedonia by a vision. Acts 16:9. This was during his second missionary journey, about A.D.53. A record of his labors and sufferings on that occasion is given in Acts 16:12-40. In his third missionary journey he twice visited Macedonia, sailing the second time from Philippi, that is, from its port Neapolis. Acts 20:1, 3-6.

28. The occasion of this epistle seems to have been the contribution made by the Philippians to supply the apostle's necessities while a prisoner in Rome. Chap.4:10-18. That he was a prisoner is plain from chap.1:13, 14, 16. That the place of imprisonment was Rome is inferred from the general tone of the epistle, which shows that the apostle was awaiting a decision of his case, in accordance with his appeal to Caesar, with the confident expectation of a favorable result (chaps.1:19-25; 2:23, 24), and especially from the mention of Caesar's household (chap.4:22). From chap.2:23, 24 we infer, moreover, that the time for a decision of his case was at hand. The date of this epistle, then, was about A.D.63.

The apostle speaks very confidently of a speedy release and restoration to the work of his apostolic office. Chaps.1:19, 25, 26; 2:24. This language is important in connection with the two closely related questions, that of a second imprisonment at Rome and that of the date of the pastoral epistles. See below, No.35.

29. The character of this epistle answers well to its occasion. It is a free outpouring of the apostle's heart towards his beloved Philippians, who had remembered him in his bonds and sent Epaphroditus to supply his wants. He bestows upon them no censure, unless the suggestion to Euodias and Syntyche be regarded as such, but commends them for their liberality, exhorts them to steadfastness in the endurance of persecution, and admonishes them to maintain a deportment which shall be in all things such as becomes the gospel, the several parts of which he specifies in the course of the epistle, but not in any very exact order. It is in connection with these admonitions that the apostle, while insisting on the duty of humility and self-sacrificing love, brings in that sublime description of the Saviour's original glory and equality with God, which he laid aside for our redemption, taking upon himself the form of a servant and submitting to the death of the cross; for which act of self-abasement he is now exalted to be Lord of heaven and earth. Chap.2:5-11. Intermingled with the above named commendations, exhortations, and counsels, are frequent notices respecting himself, introduced in the most natural and artless manner, and unfolding for our edification some of the deepest principles of Christian character.

His faith in Christ and love for His cause raise him above the sphere of human jealousies. He rejoices that Christ is preached, whether of good-will or of envy, knowing that this shall turn to his salvation through the prayers of the Philippians and the supply of Christ's Spirit. Chap.2:15-19.

He knows that for himself personally it is better to depart and be with Christ: but to continue in the flesh is more needful for the Philippians. He cannot, therefore, choose between life and death. Chap.1:21-25. How different this from the spirit of some, who think of death only in connection with their own personal comfort, and how much higher the type of religion which it reveals!

So far as outward advantages are concerned, no man can have more occasion than he to glory in the flesh. But all these he has renounced and counted loss for Christ. His one ambition is to know Christ, and be united with him in his death and resurrection. His present attainments he forgets in his single purpose of pressing towards the goal for the prize of God's heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. Chap.3:4-14.

He warmly commends the Philippians for their liberality, but wishes them to understand that he does not speak in respect to personal want; for every where and in all things he has been taught the lesson of contentment with present circumstances. Chap.4:10-14.


30. The original name of Thessalonica was Therme, whence the gulf at the head of which it is situated, was called the Thermaic gulf. The modern name of the city is Saloniki, and of the gulf, the gulf of Saloniki. In the apostolic age it was a large and wealthy city, and the metropolis of the second district of Macedonia. At the present day it is second only to Constantinople in European Turkey. Then as now a large number of Jews resided in it. In his second missionary tour the apostle, when driven from Philippi, went through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica. After his usual manner he first resorted to the Jewish synagogue "and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures." After this a tumult was raised at the instigation of the unbelieving Jews, and the apostle was sent away by night to Berea. Acts 17:1-10. We cannot affirm that his stay at Thessalonica was limited to three weeks; yet it was very brief, and for this reason he was anxious to return again that he might impart further instruction and consolation to the converts there, who were undergoing a severe ordeal of temptation through persecution. Chaps.2:17-3:5. His labors at Thessalonica were not confined to the Sabbath-day and the Jewish synagogue. He preached the gospel to the Gentiles also, and his chief success seems to have been among them.1 Thess.1:9; 2:14, 16.

31. THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS was written during the apostle's second missionary journey, the same journey in which he first visited Thessalonica. This we gather from the fact that Silvanus (Silas) was with him (chap.1:1), for Silas was Paul's travelling companion only during that journey (Acts 15:40; 16:19, 25, 29; 17:4, 10, 14, 15; 18:5); also from the notice of his being at Athens (chap.3:1 compared with Acts 17:15, 16). He did not, however, write from Athens, as the subscription erroneously states, but from Corinth; for it was at this place that Silas and Timotheus rejoined him, bringing good tidings from Macedonia respecting the church in Thessalonica. Chap.3:1-6 compared with Acts 18:1-5. This is, then, the earliest of Paul's epistles, having been written about A.D.53.

32. The epistle clearly indicates its occasion. In consideration of the brief time which the apostle had been able to spend at Thessalonica, and of the severe persecution to which the converts in that city were exposed, he was very desirous to make them a second visit. But having been twice frustrated in this purpose, he sent Timothy and Silas to learn the condition of the Thessalonian church and bring him word concerning it, which they did while he was at Corinth. Chaps.2:17-3:6. The letter is an affectionate outpouring of his heart in view of the good tidings received through these brethren, into which are interwoven encouragements, instructions, and admonitions adapted to the circumstances of the brethren at Thessalonica, with abundant references to the apostle's own labors there. In the first chapter he commends, with devout thanksgiving to God, the faith and love and patience of the Thessalonian Christians. The second and third chapters are mainly occupied with a notice of his own labors and those of his colleagues at Thessalonica, of his strong desire to revisit them which he had thus far been hindered from carrying into execution, and of his joy at the good tidings brought by Timothy, the whole closed with a fervent prayer in their behalf. The two remaining chapters contain miscellaneous instructions suited to the condition of a church that had been recently gathered in great part from the ranks of heathenism. In the course of these he corrects an error into which the Thessalonian believers had fallen from the idea that they who should die before Christ's second coming might fail of their share in its glory and blessedness. Chap.4:13-18. In both of the epistles he admonishes the Thessalonians against the neglect of their proper worldly business, a fault that was apparently connected with visionary ideas respecting the speedy second coming of our Lord, and which he rebukes in severe terms.1 Thess.4:11; 2 Thess.3:10-12.

33. THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS, like the first, is written in the name of "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus," and seems to have been sent from Corinth not many months after the first. The apostle's main design was to correct a pernicious error respecting the time of our Lord's second advent, which some at Thessalonica seem to have been strenuously engaged in propagating, and to give them further instruction respecting this great doctrine and their duty in relation to it. After the apostolic salutation he expresses his gratitude to God for the growth of their Christian faith and love, and comforts them under the pressure of the persecution to which they were subjected with the assurance of our Lord's second coming in glory to destroy his and their enemies and give rest to his suffering servants; but proceeds in the second chapter to show that this day is not yet at hand, and cannot come till there has first been a great apostacy, the characteristic features of which he proceeds to give (verses 3-12). The remainder of the epistle is occupied with commendations and encouragements to perseverence, mingled with admonitions. The latter have special reference to certain idle and disorderly members of the church, whom the apostle describes as "some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy bodies" (chap.3:11), and who also set themselves in opposition to his apostolic authority (verse 14). These disorderly persons seem to have been the same as those who were engaged in propagating erroneous notions respecting the time of our Lord's second advent. Their visionary views on this subject made them self-conceited, talkative, and self-willed, and led them to neglect the sober duties of daily life.

The apostle beseeches the Thessalonians not to be soon shaken in mind, or troubled, "neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." And he adds: "Let no man deceive you in any way" -- in any of the ways specified or any other way. Chap.2:2, 3. There were then persons at Thessalonica busily occupied in misleading the Thessalonians: (1) "by spirit," that is, by prophesies which they professed to have received from the Holy Spirit; (2) "by word," by oral teaching; (3) "by letter as from us," that is, purporting to come from the apostle. Or, perhaps, we should render: "nor by word nor by letter as from us:" that is, neither by oral teaching nor by written communication alleged to have come from me. We can well understand how the unwritten words of the apostle should have been perverted by these false teachers. The question remains: Did they pervert the meaning of his language in the first epistle, or did they employ an epistle forged in his name? The latter has been from ancient times a common interpretation of this clause, and it is favored by the words: "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write." Chap.3:17. Yet the supposition of such a forged epistle is something so improbable that many are inclined to adopt the former supposition.

The question respecting "the man of sin" belongs to the commentator. In a brief introduction like the present, we cannot enter upon it farther than to say that, though we are not warranted in affirming that it has its exhaustive fulfilment in the Papacy, yet its chief embodiment thus far has been in that corrupt and persecuting power whose character answers so remarkably to the apostle's description.

34. The epistles to the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica, both lying within the bounds of ancient Macedonia, have a remarkable agreement in their general tone and manner. In both cases we have the same affectionate outpouring of the apostle's heart towards the brethren to whom he writes, and the same abundant personal notices respecting himself and his ministry. Yet they differ precisely as we might suppose they would in view of the fact that the two to the Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul's writings, and are separated from that to the Philippians by an interval of ten eventful years. In writing to the Thessalonians he gives peculiar prominence to the doctrine of our Lord's second coming, perhaps because, in the persecutions which they were undergoing, they especially needed its strengthening and consolatory influence; perhaps also because in the continual maltreatment which he had encountered ever since he entered Macedonia -- at Philippi (Acts 16:19-40; 1 Thess.2:2), at Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-10), at Berea (Acts 17:13, 14), at Corinth (Acts 18:6-17) -- he was staying his own soul on the same glorious hope. On the contrary, we find in these earlier epistles no mention of Judaizing Christians, nor any contrast between the two opposite systems of justification by faith and by the works of the Mosaic law, such as appears in his later epistles, that to the Philippians included. Phil.3:4-9. His opponents at Thessalonica are not Judaizing Christians, but unconverted Jews, whose malignant opposition he describes in strong terms.1 Thess.2:15, 16. To the Thessalonians the apostle speaks of himself; but it is of his ministry, and the manner in which he has discharged its duties among them. To the Philippians he also speaks of himself; but then it is from a prison, with a trial for life or death before him, and the retrospect of a long ministry behind him. He unfolds, therefore, as is natural, his deep experiences as a Christian and an apostle of Christ. See above, No.29. In this contrast between the earlier and the later epistles we have an evidence of their genuineness which is all the stronger because of its indirectness. It is such a mark of truth as no falsifier has power to imitate.


35. The attempt to find for the pastoral epistles a place in Paul's ministry as far as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles is beset with difficulties which amount to impossibilities.

Among these difficulties are the following:

(1.) Whoever carefully studies these three epistles in their connection with each other, and in contrast with the other Pauline epistles, must be profoundly impressed with the conviction that they all belong, as it respects style and tone of thought, to the same period of the apostle's life; and, as it respects subject-matter, to the same era when the churches were troubled by the same forms of error. But if we assume that they were written during that part of Paul's ministry of which Luke has left us the record, the second to Timothy must be widely separated from the other two. That was certainly written during Paul's last imprisonment near the close of his life. But when he wrote the first to Timothy and that to Titus he was at liberty and prosecuting his missionary labors in Asia Minor and the vicinity. It must have been then, upon this assumption, during his third missionary tour (when Apollos appears for the first time, Acts 18:24 compared with Titus 3:13), and before his last recorded journey to Jerusalem, his arrest there, his two years' imprisonment at Cesarea, his voyage to Rome, and his imprisonment there for the space of at least two more years.

(2.) There is no part of Paul's history "between his first visit to Ephesus and his Roman imprisonment, which satisfies the historical conditions implied in the statements of any one of these epistles." Conybeare and Howson, vol.2, Appendix 1. The student may see the arguments on one side in Davidson's Introduction to the New Testament; and on the other in Alford, and other critical commentators. Reference may also be made to the biblical dictionaries.

(3.) Upon the assumption that the first epistle to Timothy, whom Paul had left in charge of the Ephesian church, was written before his recorded imprisonments at Cesarea and Rome, it must be earlier than his farewell address to the elders of Ephesus, and also his epistle to the Ephesians. But the contents of the epistle manifestly point to a later period, when the errors in doctrine and practice which he had predicted (Acts 20:29, 30), but of which he takes no notice in his epistle to the Ephesians, had already begun to manifest themselves. The more one compares with each other these two epistles, the deeper must his conviction be that the first to Timothy is not the earlier but the later of the two.

(4.) The peculiar tone and diction of the pastoral epistles and the peculiar character of the errors combated in them all indicate a later period in the apostle's life, and a later stage in the history of the churches. To place the first and third of these among those to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, and the second, among those to Philemon, the Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians, must appear forced and unnatural. It is much easier to assume the lapse of some years. Even then the contrast between these and the other epistles of Paul in respect to tone and diction is very striking. But it may be explained partly from the peculiar theme of the pastoral epistles, partly from the change which the lapse of time with its manifold experiences had brought to the apostle's style and diction.

We assume, therefore, that the apostle was released from the Roman imprisonment recorded by Luke; and that, not very long before his second imprisonment which was terminated by his martyrdom at Rome, he wrote the three epistles now under consideration. It is well known that this is in accordance with ancient tradition. See the testimonies in Conybeare and Howson, chap.27; in Alford, and in other commentators.

Against this view is urged the apostle's declaration to the elders of Ephesus that they should see his face no more; whereas, according to the present supposition, he visited Ephesus again after his first imprisonment. As a fair offset to this may be urged on the other side his equally strong declaration to the Philippians that his present imprisonment should have a favorable issue (Phil.1:25); which was not the case upon the hypothesis of a single imprisonment at Rome. Such declarations, where no doctrine or fact of Christianity is concerned, are not to be taken as revelations of the Spirit. We know, for example, from Paul's own words, that he changed his declared purpose respecting a visit to Corinth, for which his enemies accused him of using lightness.2 Cor.1:15-18.

It is urged again that when Paul wrote the pastoral epistles Timothy was a young man.1 Tim.4:12; 2 Tim.2:22. But according to ancient ideas one might be called a young man at any age under thirty-five or even forty years. Paul found Timothy in his second missionary journey, about A.D.52. It is not necessary to assume that he was then more than twenty years old. At the time of Paul's martyrdom, then, about A.D.67 or 68, he may have been, for anything that appears to the contrary, a young man in the ancient sense of the word.

36. The false teachers with whom the apostle deals in these epistles are corrupt in practice as well as in doctrine.1 Tim.1:6; 6:5; 2 Tim.2:16, 17; 3:6, 8; Titus 1:15, 16. They were chiefly Jews (1 Tim.1:7; Titus 1:10, 14; 3:9); but not Jews who held to simple Phariseeism, like the false teachers among the Galatians. They more nearly resembled those who troubled the Colossians -- Jews of a speculative turn of mind, who sought to bring into Judaism the semi-oriental philosophy of that day. They were not Gnostics; for Gnosticism was essentially anti-Judaistic, separating the God of the Jews from the God of Christianity, and placing the two in antagonism to each other. The speculations of these false teachers took a direction which was in some respects akin to the Gnosticism of the second century; but the allegation that they were themselves Gnostics rests upon the misinterpretation of certain passages in these epistles, or unwarrantable inferences from them.

37. The genuineness of these epistles is sustained by the unanimous testimony of the ancient church. Only in modern times has it been called in question by certain writers, who rest their arguments wholly on alleged internal evidence.

So far as their objections are founded on the assumed early date of the pastoral epistles -- before the close of Paul's imprisonment at Rome recorded by Luke, on their peculiar tone and diction, or on the supposed references in them to the Gnosticism of the second century, they have already been considered. But it is further alleged:

(1.) That they reveal a hierarchical spirit foreign to the character of the apostle Paul. The answer is that no trace of such a spirit is discernible in them. The churches had from the first their officers -- bishops or elders and deacons; and the apostle simply gives the necessary directions for the selection of these, with a few brief hints respecting the line of conduct to be observed towards them.1 Tim.5:1, 17, 19, 22.

(2.) That the institution of widows (1 Tim.5:9-16) belongs to a later age. Respecting the exact position of those who were enrolled in the class of widows there have been different opinions. One is that this class consisted of those who were to receive relief from the funds of the church; another, that they were matrons set apart for special service in the church, performing for their own sex duties analogous to those which the presbyters performed for the church generally. The latter opinion is the more probable of the two, as it explains the conditions insisted on by the apostle. But according to either view there is no difficulty in admitting the existence in apostolic times of such an arrangement.

38. In these pastoral epistles we have the affectionate counsels of the great apostle to the Gentiles, when he was now ripe in years and Christian experience and about to close his earthly ministry, addressed to two young men whom the Holy Ghost had made overseers of the churches. They are a rich storehouse of instruction for all to whom God has committed the ministry of reconciliation. Let them, as they hope at last to render up an account of their stewardship with joy and not with grief, prayerfully study and reduce to daily practice these precepts of heavenly wisdom given by the Holy Spirit through the pen of "Paul the aged."

39. THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY. -- The time of this epistle lies, as we have seen, beyond the recorded history of the apostle, and before his second and final imprisonment at Rome, perhaps about A.D.65 or 66. It was addressed to Timothy at Ephesus not long after the apostle had left that city to go into Macedonia (chap.1:3), but whether from Macedonia or some other province of the Roman empire cannot be determined. The occasion we learn from the epistle. Paul had left Timothy in charge of the Ephesian church, and, being apprehensive of a protracted absence, he sends him these written instructions relating partly to his own personal demeanor as a Christian minister, but chiefly to his office as the overseer of the Ephesian church. In the discharge of this office he is (1) to withstand and keep down the growing heresies of the day; (2) to superintend the government of the church in various particulars which the apostle specifies.

The contents of the epistle though not arranged in systematic order, are in harmony with its occasion and design. Into the first chapter, which is of an introductory character, the apostle, in the free intercourse of confiding affection, inserts a personal notice of himself, which breathes the spirit of devout gratitude and deep humility. He then proceeds to give directions pertaining to the public worship of God -- prayer, the costume of women, and their place in the public assembly (chap.2); and to the choice of bishops and deacons (chap.3). After a digression in the fourth chapter respecting the character of the coming apostacy foretold by the Spirit, which is followed by admonitions to Timothy of a personal character, he proceeds in the fifth chapter to give directions respecting the appointment and treatment of elders, of the elder and younger women, and especially of widows, with personal counsel to Timothy. Then follows an admonition to servants, a notice of the false teachers, a warning to the rich with further counsels to Timothy, and an animating glance at the second coming of our Lord.

Eunice, the mother of Timothy, was a Jewess distinguished for her piety, as was also his grandmother Lois. Acts 16:1; 2 Tim.1:5. By them he was carefully trained in the knowledge of the holy Scriptures (2 Tim.3:15), and had a good reputation among the brethren when Paul found him at Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1, 2). His father being a Greek, he had never been subjected to the rite of circumcision. But in consideration of his mixed descent Paul, to allay the prejudices of his countrymen, "took and circumcised him," while he would not allow this rite to be imposed on Titus, who was of unmixed Gentile origin. Timothy was one of the most trusty and beloved of Paul's fellow-laborers, as we learn from these and his other epistles, and he naturally desired the comfort and help of his presence in his final imprisonment at Rome.2 Tim.4:9, 21. His health was feeble (1 Tim.5:23), and there are in Paul's epistles some indications that he was naturally timid and diffident (1 Cor.16:10, 11; 2 Tim.1:7, 8; 2:3). But grace made him faithful to the end.

40. THE EPISTLE TO TITUS which comes next in chronological order, has a remarkable agreement with the first to Timothy in both subject-matter and style. With the exception of what relates to widows and the demeanor of women in the public assemblies, it contains the same general precepts, with additional exhortations that young men be sober-minded, and that the Cretan Christians obey magistrates and be meek and gentle in their deportment. With these counsels the apostle interweaves, as in the first epistle to Timothy, exhortations to Titus of a personal character, and animating notices of God's grace in the gospel and of the second coming of our Lord.

Respecting the founding of the Cretan churches we have no information in the Acts of the Apostles. The only time mentioned by Luke when Paul touched at Crete was on his voyage to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:8); and then he had neither time nor liberty for the work of preaching the gospel in that island. Crete contained many Jews, some of whom were present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). The apostle's visit to Crete referred to in this epistle we assume to have taken place between his first and second imprisonment at Rome. Whether the churches of the island were then founded for the first time or had previously existed, it is certain that Paul left them in an imperfect state of organization. For this reason he requested Titus to remain, that he might set in order the things that were wanting, and ordain elders in every city. Chap.1:5.

It is remarkable that we have no notice of Titus in the Acts of the Apostles. From the epistles of Paul we learn that he was his companion in travel, and intrusted by him at different times with missions to the churches. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas to the so-called Council of the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem, where, being a Greek, he was exempted from the necessity of circumcision. Gal.2:1, 3. For other notices of him see 2 Cor.2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18. His stay in Crete was not to be permanent; for the apostle directs that upon the arrival from him of Artemas or Tychicus he should rejoin him at Nicopolis -- probably Nicopolis in Epirus. Chap.3:12.

41. SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY. -- The first epistle to Timothy and that to Titus are in a certain sense official; that is, they are largely occupied with apostolic counsels and directions to these two men respecting the administration of the churches which Paul had committed to their care. The present epistle is of a more private and personal character. It was written from Rome when Paul was a prisoner there (chaps.1:8, 16, 17; 2:9), and expecting soon to seal his testimony with his blood (chap.4:6). In his extremity, when fidelity to him could be shown only at the hazard of life, many of his friends had forsaken him. Chaps.1:15; 4:10. He needed the presence and help of Timothy, and wrote urging him to come speedily, and to bring certain articles which he had left at Troas. Feeling that his end was near, he improved the occasion to give Timothy his affectionate apostolic counsel and encouragement. Hence the present epistle differs strikingly in its preceptive part from the other two. They contain specific directions for ordaining officers and managing the affairs of the churches; for in them the apostle writes to men in charge of specific fields of labor. In the second epistle to Timothy, on the contrary, the apostle's exhortations are general, for he is summoning him away from his particular field to give attendance upon himself at Rome. But all three of the pastoral epistles agree remarkably, as well in their general style and diction as in their description of existing errors and false teachers. It is generally thought that Timothy was at Ephesus; and with this opinion agrees the salutation to "the household of Onesiphorus," who was at Ephesus. Chap.4:19 compared with 1:18. The words of chap.4:12, however, "Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus," do not favor this supposition. Hence some have thought that Timothy was not in that city, but only in its vicinity. The present is undoubtedly the last of Paul's epistles in the order of time. As such we cannot but peruse it with solemnity, as the closing testimony of one who has fought the good fight, finished the appointed course, and kept the faith; and who here instructs all, especially all preachers of the gospel, how they may do the same. "And thus we possess an epistle calculated for all ages of the church; and in which while the maxims cited and encouragements given apply to all Christians, and especially ministers of Christ, in their duties and difficulties -- the affecting circumstances in which the writer himself is placed carry home to every heart his earnest and impassioned eloquence." Alford, Introduction to 2 Timothy.


42. In regard to the authorship of this epistle biblical scholars are not agreed. Each of the thirteen preceding epistles bears the name of Paul. But the present epistle is without either name or address, and it omits also at the beginning the apostolic salutation. Thus it commences in the form of an essay, though it closes in that of an epistle. These circumstances, in connection with its peculiar style and diction and the peculiar range of the topics discussed in it, have produced a diversity of opinion on the question whether Paul was its author, at least its author in the immediate sense in which he was the author of the preceding epistles. For the full discussion of the arguments on both sides the reader must be referred to the commentaries, some of which are accessible to all. Our limits will only permit us to indicate certain facts and principles which have a bearing on the authorship of the epistle and its canonical authority.

The unanimous belief of the Eastern church, where we must suppose that it was first received and whence the knowledge of it was spread abroad, ascribed it to Paul as its author either immediately or virtually; for some, as Origen (in Eusebius' Hist. Eccl., 6.14) accounted for its peculiar diction by the supposition that Paul furnished the thoughts, while they were reduced to form by the pen of some other person. Another opinion was that Paul wrote in Hebrew, and that our present canonical epistle is a translation into Greek (Eusebius' Hist. Eccl., 3.38; Clement of Alexandria in Eusebius' Hist. Eccl., 6.14). In the Western church Clement of Rome did indeed refer to the epistle as authoritative, but without naming the author. Yet its Pauline authorship was not generally admitted, nor was it received as a part of the sacred canon till the fourth century, when here too the opinion of the Eastern church was adopted. The Muratorian canon, which represents the belief of the Western church before the fourth century, omits this epistle. The Syriac Peshito, on the other hand, inserts it in accordance with its uniform reception by the Eastern church. This uniformity of belief in the Eastern church must have had for its starting point the Hebrews to whom the epistle was sent; and it is a strong argument for the supposition that it did originally come to them under the sanction of Paul's name and authority; whether dictated to an amanuensis, as were most of his epistles, or written with his knowledge and approbation by some inspired man among his attendants and fellow-laborers who was thoroughly conversant with his views on the subjects treated of in the epistle. This is as far as we have any occasion to go, since we know that the gift of inspiration was not confined to the circle of the apostles.

As we cannot affirm that all who were associated with the apostles in the work of the ministry had the gifts needful for the composition of writings that should be given to the churches as the authoritative word of God, so neither can we deny to some the possession of these gifts, as is plain from the examples of Mark and Luke. When men who stood in the second grade of relation to Christ -- apostolic men, as we may conveniently call them -- composed their works, it is not necessary to assume that they wrote under a formal apostolic supervision. The "discerning of spirits" is a gift which we must concede to all of the apostles. If, then, an associate of one of the apostles had such relations to him and wrote in such circumstances that we cannot suppose it to have been done without his knowledge and approbation formal or implied, we have for his work all needful authority. What further connection the apostle may have had with it in the way of suggestion or supervision is a question which we may well leave undetermined. In judging of this matter we consider first of all the testimony of the early churches, since they enjoyed the best means of ascertaining the origin of a writing; and then the character of the writing itself. Proceeding in this way we come to the full conviction of the canonical authority of the epistle to the Hebrews, whether we believe, with many, that Paul was its immediate author, or, with Origen, that "the ancients not without reason have handed it down as Paul's; but on the question who wrote the epistle God only knows the truth."

43. That the apostle wrote for the instruction of Jewish Christians is manifest. The uniform tenor of the epistle indicates, moreover, that they were Jewish Christians without any admixture of a Gentile element. The salutations at the end further imply that the epistle addresses not Hebrew Christians in general, but some particular community of them, which is most naturally to be sought in Palestine, perhaps in Jerusalem. As to the time of the epistle, the manner in which it refers to the temple and its services makes it certain that the author wrote before the overthrow of Jerusalem, that is, before A.D.70. The arguments adduced to show that Paul was its author, either immediately or virtually, carry it back beyond A.D.67 or 68, when, according to ancient tradition, the apostle suffered martyrdom. It was probably written not many years before that event; but a more exact determination of the time is impossible. According to the most probable interpretation of chap.13:24, the epistle was written from Italy. But that Timothy was not the bearer of it, as the subscription states, is plain from the preceding verse, in which he conditionally promises to come with Timothy at a future time.

The references in the epistle to the Levitical priesthood and the temple services connected with it are in the present or perfect tenses -- "is ordained," "is encompassed," "he ought," "taketh this honor," "have a commandment to take tithes" "receive tithes" "hath given attendance at the altar" (chap.7:13), "have become" (chap.7:21, 23), "maketh men high priests," "who serve," "hath made the first old" (the references in chap.9:1-5 are to the ancient tabernacle), "enter always into the first tabernacle" (chap.9:6), "which he offers" (verse 7), "the Holy Ghost this signifying that the way into the holiest places has not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is as yet standing" (verse 8), "gifts and sacrifices are offered" (verse 9), "sanctifieth," "are by the law purged," "can never," "standeth." It is to be regretted that our version has not in all cases observed this distinction of tenses.

44. The central theme of this book is the superiority of the Christian over the Mosaic dispensation considered on the side of its divine Mediator and High-priest. In unfolding this great theme the writer dwells on the glory and dignity of Christ's person in contrast with the ancient prophets, with the angels, and with Moses, all of whom were connected with the first economy. He then proceeds to exhibit the divine efficacy of Christ's priesthood. This is the substance, of which the Levitical priesthood, with its altar, its offerings and all the temple-services connected with it, was only the shadow. In no book of the New Testament is our Lord's priestly office set forth with such fullness and rich variety of illustrations, always with reference to its divinely appointed type, the Levitical priesthood. This was especially needful to fortify the Hebrew Christians, who had been educated and lived under the constant impression of the splendid Mosaic ritual with its magnificent temple, against the danger of being turned from the simplicity of the gospel to reliance on the "carnal ordinances" of Judaism, which would have been virtual apostacy from Christ. This magnificent epistle constitutes in some sense a solemn requiem to the old temple service with its altar and priesthood, where the blood of bulls and goats that can never take away sin had flowed for so many centuries. This service had accomplished its end in prefiguring Christ the true "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," and it was destined soon to pass away forever "with tumult, with shouting, with the sound of the trumpet" -- to pass away forever, that men might give their undivided faith to Christ, our great High-priest, who ministers for us in the heavenly tabernacle, presenting there before his Father's throne his own blood shed on Calvary to make propitiation for the sins of the world.

To the argumentative part of this epistle are appended exhortations (partly, indeed, anticipated in the preceding part) to constancy in the Christian profession, drawn from the awful doom that awaits apostates, from the examples of faith furnished by ancient worthies, and especially from the example of Christ himself and the glorious fellowship to which his gospel introduces us. To these are added some admonitions of a more special character. Thus the present epistle performs an office in the general system of revelation which is supplied by no other book of the Old or New Testament. To the book of Leviticus it may be said to hold the relation of substance to shadow, and it is its divinely appointed expositor.

chapter xxix the historical books
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