The apostle Paul, Christianity’s first and utmost theologian, was most likely born in Tarsus, what is now modern day Turkey, likely around the year 5 A.D. Though Saul, as he was originally named, was clearly born outside of Rome, he inherited Roman citizenship from his family. As Paul states, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, meaning that he was circumcised on the eighth day. From early on in his life, Paul was associated with higher learning and strict Jewish laws and teachings. Paul knew more than one language, including Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and possibly others. Pursuing education fervently he gained knowledge from Gamaliel, and other such sources to gain a better overall education with a wide range of perspectives and viewpoints.
Paul states that he was zealous for ancestral traditions, meaning that he was extremely strict in his views and lifestyle towards the Jewish law and customs. Paul’s life was dedicated to the point that he was to be a Pharisee, as to the Law, Shammai, being the strictest of all the sects. He was so extreme in his ways that as he advanced in his education, he began to persecute those who were not aligned with proper Judaism, focusing intently on Christianity, known as the Way.
Paul grew to violently oppose all who followed a criminal who people would call the Messiah, for to Paul at that time, such a thing was surely blasphemy against the Lord. Paul’s intense passion and dedication to upholding the Law to perfection led him to campaign against those who believed in Jesus, killing them.
Paul’s violent actions against Christians would not last forever, for on the road to Damascus Jesus personally confronted him and changed his life eternally. Paul discovered that his dedication and zeal towards the Jewish Law had led him to killing and persecuting the very God whom he thought he was serving and obeying. The people he thought were committing the crime of blaspheming were actually worshipping and following the true Messiah. Surely, at this moment in time Paul thought he was going to be struck down and killed by the Lord for the horrible acts he committed against Jesus and the true Kingdom of God. However, that same Jesus who he persecuted was the same God who accepted him and forgave him. The Lord looked past his wrongdoing and called and converted Paul to become an apostle of Jesus, and a prophet of the Lord Himself.
Paul, being the educated man that he was, knew that simply adding Jesus and the concepts of His death to his thought processes and beliefs, after living his life as a dedicated Jew and Pharisee, would be complicated and difficult. Surely distraught and confused, for his whole world had been turned upside down, Paul spent years of time in the desert thinking, praying, and pondering God and the Scriptures, educating and reeducating Himself on how this could all fit together. This is the point in time where theology practically began, for the greatest theologian and Christian thinker reshaped what we know today as Christian theology and doctrine. Paul used this time in the desert to understand and piece together how it all fit as one, and make it presentable and understandable for mankind.
It’s my belief that there never was a day in Paul’s life, after his call and conversion, where he did not dwell or think about the road to Damascus. Paul experienced grace beyond all measure, something completely incomprehensible, amazing, and almost haunting. Surely Paul thought that he deserved condemnation and judgment for the actions he committed against the Messiah Jesus, but the unexplainable grace that only God could give was the only reason he was not turned immediately into dust. These occurrences and fact has shaped and molded Paul into the apostle and man we have come to know and love in the epistles.
Each letter Paul wrote had different purposes and interests, always with intent to teach, inform, and share the message, love, and grace of Jesus Christ.
His interest in Romans is to show that faith, by either Jews or Gentiles, in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only means to gain acceptance by God the Father. Paul wants followers to stop focusing so strictly to the Laws, as to their means of salvation, but rather their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s interest in 1 Corinthians is to address and answer various questions for the church in Corinth, upon hearing about negative aspects going on within the congregation and receiving questions from the church itself. His overall interest is to realign the church in love to promote love, unity, and proper worship of the Lord.
His interest in 2 Corinthians is to explain himself to the church at Corinth and rebuild a relationship which seemed to be a bit rocky after his second visit to the church. Paul shows great care and love for all the churches wanting to regain respect, unity, and love amongst his fellow Christian brothers and sisters at the church in Corinth.
Paul’s interest in Galatians is to change the wrong teachings and thoughts of the church in Galatia. The letter is largely concerned with the problem of Gentile Christians being told they had to be circumcised and to keep the Jewish Law in order to stay true to the Lord. This is an instance where Paul focuses on faith in Jesus over the actions of the Law, in which one gain salvation.
His interest in Ephesians is to promote Christian unity amongst all believers of Jesus. It is through unity and love in their relationships with others in Christ that they truly demonstrate Christian behavior.
Paul’s interest in Philippians is to spread joy and to thank the church for the generous gift that they gave to him. Paul is writing from house arrest, so though his personal situation was not the best, he wrote to the church at Philippi with words of encouragement and love.
His interest in Colossians is to realign and refocus the church at Colossae to continue to believe in Jesus Christ alone, and to not acquire other belief systems or distorted viewpoints. Paul did not found the church at Colossae nor had he ever visited them. However, he heard about the mixed views spreading through the church, and wanted to make sure that Jesus was the only topic being taught, and not other philosophies.
Paul’s interest in 1 Thessalonians was to answer questions and continue to teach the church at Thessalonica. The church needed some further guidance to help them grow deeper in Jesus, perform better as a church, and understand Jesus’ return. His interest in 2 Thessalonians is similar to the first letter, continuing to teach on various topics, again focusing a lot on the return of Jesus.
His interest in 1 Timothy is to teach and build a good leadership within the church. The topics of correct doctrine and how to appoint headship all revolve around the theme of church guidance and leadership. His interest in 2 Timothy is to personally give advice and encouragement to Timothy so that he may mature and grow as a great leader and man in Jesus Christ.
Paul’s interest in Titus is to give instruction and encouragement to Titus so that he may shape, mold, teach, and discipline the Christians located in Crete. His interest in Philemon is to give advice and teaching to Philemon concerning his slave Onesimus. It is a letter focusing on Onesimus’ actions and eventual conversion to Christianity, and Paul’s response and explanation to Philemon about the whole situation, promoting grace.
Though Paul is not alive today, churches and individual Christians can use his letters as framework for correct Christian behavior and proper doctrine. It would be interesting to see what Paul would have written to our modern day churches concerning the actions and behavior that go on in today’s congregations.
I believe that the typical framework in which Paul would follow for writing a letter to a contemporary church would remain similar to those which he wrote to the first century churches, with minor changes. Paul would surely begin all contemporary letters with a greeting, a thanksgiving, and praises for all that the church is doing in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The body of Paul’s contemporary letters would definitely include discussions and teachings on the topic of love and unity, how all churches must strive for both qualities. As well, his letters would include many church specific issues, and how the individual church could tackle and issue or improve in certain areas.
Paul would surely also include a section of answered questions that the church possibly would have asked him, or had obviously been in need of hearing. Then finally, I believe that Paul would end with practical applications, personal advice, more encouragement, and prayers. I could see each letter fitting a similar Pauline style format, but being perfectly tailored to the needs and concerns of each individual church.
A letter from Paul to my church or your church, would surely be a great blessing. Though such a letter could never occur, I believe searching and studying the Scriptures and applying Pauline principles to current church issues can give great insight to possible improvements and changes that might need to be addressed or worked on. Using correct knowledge of context and application with Paul’s teachings and concepts properly, should guide and improve the modern church as well as individual Christians.
Paul is the greatest Christian theologian and missionary of not only his time, but of all time. Understanding who he is, what he believed, the concepts and ideas he created and explained in our terms, and all that he wrote, is essential to any Christian’s belief system and overall faith in God.