This week, we are doing something a little different. Instead of our normal posts about Christian life and what following Jesus means; we are looking at the letters of Paul which make up thirteen books of the Bible. We started by delving a little bit into who Paul was and how he got to be an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we will be looking at his letters, when and where they were written, as well as a bit of historical context as to the time when Paul wrote these now very famous letters.
Before we really get into the letters themselves and their content, let’s talk just briefly about when they were written and put them into a little bit of historical context. As I stated in my last post, Paul was on his missionary journey to Europe and Asia Minor between 47 and 65 AD and many scholars place his letters right within this timeframe between approximately 49 AD and 64/65 AD. So what was happening in world, or at least the region of the world Paul was visiting at that time and what was specifically happening in Paul’s life?
Life in the Roman Empire
Let’s first look at 49 AD, around the time the first "Pauline" Letter was written. Since Christ’s resurrection, this movement of Christianity (of which, we know Paul played a huge part on both sides), threw the Roman Empire a real curveball. There was conflict between Jews and Christians, so much so that the Roman Emperor at the time, Claudius became really upset with the unrest and, what he called in his Letter to Alexandria in around 42 AD, “Strife and Rioting.” Now, its good to note here that when Claudius as a Roman viewed this unrest, he was not viewing the struggle between two groups – the Jews and the Christians – he saw the two as one in the same; not distinguishing between the groups at all. So the situation to him seemed clearly out of control which was just unacceptable for the Roman Empire because they tended to stamp out unrest very quickly as a way of maintaining power. This was due to the fact that they believed the unrest was associated with a push for greater power from their “subjects”. They didn’t intend to share their power as this dominant force with anyone; nonetheless, the Jews who they saw as beneath them. So, in this letter to Alexandria, Claudius warned the Jews to not to cause this unrest any longer; suggesting that in order to do so, Jewish activity within the City of Rome at the Synagogues and in homes should significantly decrease and if this did not happen, he would unleash his “righteous wrath” upon them. I do not think you need me to tell you that the unrest did not end with Claudius’ letter – when a Christian is stirred up, they really can’t just not share the Good News, we all know that, and this causes more and more conflict! Well, this brings us to 49 AD. After 7 years Claudius just cannot take it anymore and he acts on what he promised to do in his Letter to Alexandria – he literally expels the Jews from the City of Rome until around 51 AD. Needless to say, its not a great time to be a Christian, spreading the Word throughout the Roman Empire and particularly Rome at this time. The environment is hostile and only exacerbated by the Romans grasping at authority.
These really hostile feelings toward Christians will not end throughout the time of Paul’s ministry as can be seen in 64 AD when a fire breaks out in Rome, which many scholars believe was started by the Emperor Nero to make room for his new palace, that Christians were baselessly blamed and persecuted for. But what about Paul, specifically? What was life like for him throughout his missions and while he was writing his letters?
We have Paul as being born circa 4 AD in Tarsus, that would make him between 43 and 61 years old while he was actively building the early churches. In that time 60-65 would be considered old age (I know there is a lot of people that would say 35 would have been considered old then; but, this is not true). If you survived childhood – childhood mortality rates were high – and were of average health, you could expect to live to around 60. Whatever the case is, however, Paul is not a young strapping man when he makes his way across the Asia Minor and Europe! It's also noted by Paul himself in Galatians that he had a pretty significant eye problem. And this is not just any old eye problem... Paul states that it was so bad that the Galatians would be tempted to reject him for his ailment, so I imagine it was pretty gross! Finally, Paul was not only growing older and dealing with a debilitating eye condition, he also faced great opposition and found himself in and out of imprisonment numerous times! One of the most notable stints being two years between about 60 AD and 62 AD in Rome, which is when he wrote what is called the Prison Epistles (letters to Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) These letters, among a few others will be what we look at in our next blog post as we now start to dive into Paul’s Letters to the Early Church!
Are you looking for a good reading plan and just don't know where to start? Join me in reading all about the Bible's teachings on Thanksgiving throughout the whole month of November! Check out our November reading plan below and don't forget to stop by our Instagram Live (@whitneygibbsministries) each evening to discuss the day's readings!